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Democratic members of the committee defended Mr. Holder. The panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, said there was no need for the contempt vote Wednesday and the committee could have worked with the Justice Department in obtaining the requested records.

Mr. Cummings said assertions of executive privilege should be used “sparingly,” but added that in this case, “it seems clear that the administration was forced into this position by the committee’s unreasonable insistence on pressing forward with contempt despite the attorney general’s good-faith offer.”

Mr. Cummings noted that the full House has never held an attorney general in contempt, and the only precedent for what the committee did Wednesday was 1998, when Attorney General Janet Reno was recommended for a contempt citation, but Speaker Newt Gingrich refused to bring it the floor for a vote.

“If Speaker Boehner brings this contempt citation to the floor, he will be known as one of the most extreme speakers in history,” he said.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, said the committee’s probe “shouldn’t be a political witch hunt” while Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, said Mr. Holder was being “held to an impossible standard.”

If the full House passes the contempt resolution against the attorney general, the speaker could forward it to the U.S. attorney for District of Columbia, who could call for a criminal investigation — although it has not happened before.