House committee votes to hold Holder in contempt

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A House committee voted on Wednesday to recommend that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. be held in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over hundreds of pages of documents it subpoenaed in its investigation of the botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation, even as President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold the records.

The recommendation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, approved along strict party lines after more than six hours of rancorous debate, goes to the full House for a vote where — if it passes — the speaker could forward it to the U.S. attorney for District of Columbia for enforcement.

Led by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California, 23 Republicans voted to send the contempt recommendation to the House, while 17 Democrats were opposed.

House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said immediately after the vote that the full House will vote on the matter next week.

“Despite being given multiple opportunities to provide the documents necessary for Congress‘ investigation into Fast and Furious, Attorney General Holder continues to stonewall. Today, the administration took the extraordinary step of exerting executive privilege over documents that the attorney general had already agreed to provide to Congress,” they said in a joint statement.

“Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” they said. “While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the attorney general reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week.

The two Republican leaders also said that if Mr. Holder produces the requested documents prior to the scheduled vote, they will give the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee an opportunity to review “in hopes of resolving this issue.”

The president’s assertion of executive privilege came Wednesday morning, just minutes before the committee began its meeting to consider the contempt citation. Mr. Holder had appealed directly to Mr. Obama for the executive privilege assertion, saying in an eight-page letter Wednesday that the compelled production would “have significant, damaging consequences” and inhibit the department’s deliberative process.

In a separate letter to Mr. Issa, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said the privilege applies to documents that explain how the department learned there were problems with the Fast and Furious operation, which allowed more than 2,000 weapons to be “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico, more than 600 of which are still unaccounted for.

“We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests,” Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Issa said the president’s “untimely assertion” of executive privilege “falls short of any reason to delay today’s proceedings,” concerning the contempt citation. He also questioned why the president was now asserting executive privilege more than eight months after the documents originally were subpoenaed.

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