A House committee Wednesday voted along partisan lines to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to turn over documents on the Justice Department’s handling of Operation Fast and Furious.
Hours prior to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s 23-17 vote, Deputy Attorney General James Cole informed the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista (San Diego County), that the Obama administration is asserting executive privilege in declining to turn over documents.
The vote and assertion of executive privilege – the administration’s first – were a measure of how the Fast and Furious controversy has morphed into a full-blown Washington crisis pitting a branch of Congress controlled by one party against an administration controlled by the other.
The committee’s vote now goes to the full House, which is expected to approve the contempt citation. After that, said Joseph diGenova, who served as U.S. attorney in Washington under President Ronald Reagan, it is up to the U.S. attorney in Washington, Ronald Machen, to present the case to a grand jury.
Operation Fast and Furious was an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2009 and 2010 in which Phoenix-based agents were ordered to observe gun purchases on behalf of ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels instead of stopping them.
But the agents’ efforts to follow the trail from low-level purchasers to cartel higher-ups failed, and they lost track of the guns. About 2,000 ended up in Mexico in cartel hands. Two of them were recovered in Southern Arizona in December 2010 at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
After ATF whistle-blowers alerted members of Congress, the Justice Department in February 2011 denied “gun-walking” tactics had been used in Fast and Furious. Department officials subsequently reversed themselves and Holder admitted publicly that Fast and Furious was “fundamentally flawed.”
The administration’s invocation of executive privilege covers documents produced after the Feb. 4, 2011, Justice Department letter denying use of gun-walking tactics in Fast and Furious.
After the vote, Holder issued a statement calling the contempt citation “an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the executive branch.”
– Read the entire article at The San Francisco Chronicle.