House Republicans said Monday that they will move to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, escalating a separation-of-powers battle over Fast and Furious, the Obama administration’s botched gun-walking operation.
With the blessing of Republican leaders, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa will hold a vote next week to recommend contempt proceedings, and a House floor vote could follow soon after as the GOP seeks to keep the pressure on President Obama ahead of November’s elections.
Administration officials dismissed the move as political. The Justice Department said it had been close to reaching an agreement on trying to share some of the information that the oversight committee is seeking.
“The Justice Department is out of excuses,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”
Trust on both sides is gone. Democrats argue that the GOP is pursuing a political agenda to tarnish Mr. Obama, and Republicans point to repeated denials and information the administration has provided that have later been found to be untrue.
Mr. Holder and Mr. Obama acknowledge fundamental flaws in Fast and Furious, which allowed guns to be sold to straw purchasers in the U.S. knowing they were being sent across the border to Mexican cartels. But they said the operation was handled entirely by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employees, with little oversight at the Justice Department.
The department initially denied many of the details of the operation, including that guns were knowingly “walked” without being tracked, but recanted in December — including taking the embarrassing step of officially withdrawing an inaccurate letter sent to Congress.
Mr. Issa is trying to get a look at documents that he thinks would show how the Justice Department changed its mind on those details, and how high up blame should be placed for the ill-conceived program.
“Specifically, the Justice Department has refused to turn over critical documents on the grounds that they show internal department deliberations and were created after February 4, 2011 — the date Justice issued a false denial to Congress. Contempt will focus on the failure to provide these post February 4th documents,” said Mr. Issa, California Republican.
Mr. Holder’s spokeswoman said the contempt proceedings were “political games” that short-circuited what she said had been fruitful talks on turning over information.
“The conversations between our staffs have been productive and we believe that an amicable resolution of these matters is achievable. Because of this, the committee’s decision to set a hearing on its draft contempt resolution is premature,” Mr. Cole said in a letter Monday afternoon.