One day before a scheduled contempt vote of Attorney General Eric Holder, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered a qualified defense of House Republicans’ “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe, even while fighting off a reporter’s comparisons of the scandal to Watergate.
Asked whether House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) investigation was substantive, Hoyer told reporters at his weekly pen and pad: “I think the Congress of the United States, as a co-equal branch of government with a responsibility of overseeing the executive department, has the authority and the responsibility to receive such information as it needs to make rational substantive judgments.
“I don’t want to say it’s without any substance. I also think that clearly, no one would doubt that the political aspect of this,” Hoyer continued.
The tone of the remarks put Hoyer at odds with other Democrats such as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the Oversight panel, who has criticized Issa’s investigation as reckless and basely political.
But the firm defense of Congress’s authority to demand documents from the executive branch may help explain why House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have not rushed to defend Holder with a coordinated push-back.
“Obviously the Congress has authority to investigate, and both under Republican and Democratic administrations the executive departments are sometimes reluctant to provide documents. I’m hopeful that they’ll get it resolved and that whatever documents that the committee seeks that are appropriate for release are in fact released,” Hoyer said.
The Maryland Democrat’s comments come as Issa and Holder are set to meet this afternoon to negotiate the release by the Justice Department of a key category of Fast and Furious documents.
Issa has scheduled a committee vote for Wednesday on a contempt report of Holder if the documents are not released in time.
In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.
The tactic was condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.
Following his initial remarks about the issue, a reporter asked Hoyer if Republicans were trying to escalate the conflict over releasing the documents into something like Watergate, the scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign.
Hoyer became somewhat heated as he said the two scandals are not alike.
“It has nothing to do with breaking the law. Watergate had to do with a criminal act. Obstruction of justice. That’s not what this is about. This is about whether a policy — how it was adopted, who knew about it — but not whether the law was broken by Attorney General Holder,” Hoyer said.
“And it’s whether or not these documents that are in question are internal documents — which every administration, Republican and Democrat, have claimed they have a certain executive privilege. I think that’s what this is about.”