EDITORIAL: Tempting contempt of Congress

White House risks charges in probes of Fast and Furious, Solyndra

The clock is ticking for the Justice Department. As officials continue to withhold documents relevant to the administration’s fatally flawed gunrunning scheme, House lawmakers grow more anxious to get to the bottom of what happened. Unless the material is produced before the deadline, Republicans shouldn’t waver in issuing contempt-of-Congress citations.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members investigating Fast and Furious have given Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. until Thursday to turn over subpoenaed material and avoid an unpleasant battle between the executive and legislative branches. During his sixth Fast and Furious appearance before the committee last week, Mr. Holder repeatedly insisted the department was trying to comply with the numerous information requests. For Republicans who have heard his assurances before, his Feb. 2 testimony was “Groundhog Day” all over again, but no one was laughing.

Chairman Darrell Issa of California complained that Justice had complied only in turning over 6,400 documents of 80,000 requested. Among the records held back, according to committee GOP member Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, are wiretap applications signed by key Justice officials in Washington laying out the plan for the gunrunning scheme. The documents, he said, are “the single best piece of evidence” that responsibility for the operation reaches into the department’s upper echelons. That would explain the stonewalling.

In the ill-advised Fast and Furious scheme, federal agents orchestrated the purchase and smuggling of more than 2,000 weapons into Mexico in the apparent hope that the guns would be tracked to members of dangerous drug cartels. However, lawmen failed to trace the firearms, some of which were used in murders that Mr. Issa said number in the hundreds. The victims include U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was fatally shot in December 2010.

On Feb. 1, the Terry family filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming federal agents were negligent in allowing the weapons to come into the possession of dangerous drug traffickers. Given the botched operation’s deadly consequences, withholding of relevant documents clearly constitutes obstruction. Should the administration persist, Mr. Issa ought to pull the trigger on the contempt citation.

GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are also weighing contempt charges against the White House in the Solyndra probe. Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida told Fox Business Network last week that Republicans were considering citing administration officials for “slow walking” their response to the committee’s investigation of the solar-panel company’s bankruptcy shortly after receiving $535 million in taxpayer funds.

President Obama has reneged on his pledge to lead an administration unique in its commitment to transparency. It’s not surprising Republicans need to employ tough tactics to uncover high-level missteps that have proved so costly in lives and treasure. Election-year politics aside, Republicans have a constitutional duty to press for answers in both Fast and Furious and Solyndra. Contempt charges may be what’s needed to send a wake-up call to the White House.

The Washington Times

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