Last-minute deal fizzles; Holder contempt vote still on tap

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Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. faces a contempt of Congress hearing Wednesday after refusing a last-minute compromise offer to turn over subpoenaed documents to a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning operation.

Deadlocked since October over the delivery of hundreds of pages of Justice Department documents concerning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigation that saw more than 2,000 weapons “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico, Mr. Holder showed up empty-handed during a 20-minute, face-to-face meeting Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa.

“I had hoped that after this evening’s meeting I would be able to tell you that the department had delivered documents that would justify the postponement of tomorrow’s vote on contempt,” Mr. Issa said. “The department told the committee on Thursday that it had documents it could produce that would answer our questions.

“Today, the attorney general informed us that the department would not be producing those documents. The only offer they made involved us ending our investigation,” the California Republican said.

Mr. Holder told reporters after the meeting that he would not turn over Fast and Furious documents unless Mr. Issa agreed to another meeting, where he said he would explain what is in the materials.

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. arrives on Tuesday with Deputy Attorney General James Cole (left) at the U.S. Capitol to meet with House members seeking documents on the Fast and Furious gurnrunning investigation. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

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U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. arrives on Tuesday with Deputy ... more >

He said he wanted an assurance from Mr. Issa that the transfer of the records would satisfy the committee’s subpoena.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House committee, described the session as “a very good meeting.” He said Mr. Holder agreed to provide documents, a “substantive briefing of the department’s actions” and a description of the categories of documents produced and withheld, and to “entertain substantive follow-up requests for information.”

“He was very clear that answering these subpoenas has taken up a substantial amount of time of the attorney general’s office, and I thought he was — as I have always thought, he has been very reasonable in trying to address this issue,” Mr. Cummings said. He also said some of the documents Mr. Issa wants are unlawful for Mr. Holder to release, such as wiretap applications and others that “might have placed trials and investigations in jeopardy.”

Mr. Issa said he hoped the department will reconsider its decision so the scheduled Wednesday vote can be postponed, but added, “After this meeting, I cannot say that I am optimistic.”

He said Mr. Holder came with an “offer of a briefing.”

“At this point, we simply do not have the documents we have repeatedly said we need to justify the postponement of a contempt vote in committee,” he said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who first began the Fast and Furious investigation after the Dec. 15, 2010, shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, said Mr. Holder sought to “trade a briefing and the promise of delivering some small, unspecified set of documents tomorrow for a free pass today.

“He wants to turn over only what he wants to turn over and not give us any information about what he’s not turning over. That’s unacceptable,” he said. “I’m not going to buy a pig in a poke. Chairman Issa is right to move forward to seek answers about a disastrous government operation.”

Terry was killed in a gunfight with bandits along the U.S.-Mexico border, south of Tucson. Two semi-automatic AK-47 assault rifles found at the scene of the killing later were traced to the Fast and Furious operation.

Mr. Issa said that while Tuesday was his deadline for getting the documents he wanted, the deadline was only a means to getting the documents and wasn’t a hard deadline.

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