Republican congressional leaders are threatening Attorney General Eric Holder with a contempt charge over the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal as they make it clear that they have no intention of letting up their pressure on him.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California told the country’s top law officer that he would “have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress,” if Holder fails to produce thousands more documents his committee has demanded.
Issa’s four-page letter, sent Tuesday, just two days before Holder is scheduled to go back before the committee, gave the attorney general until 5 p.m. Feb. 9 to comply.
Issa pointed out that his committee had asked for the documents back in October. They are “vital to help Congress fully understand the genesis, implementation and oversight of Operation Fast and Furious,” he said.
Fast and Furious was a scheme that allowed thousands of semi-automatic weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Issa said one particularly damaging document, an internal Justice Department email, showed that Deputy Attorney General Lanny Breuer still was promoting Fast and Furious on Feb. 4 last year, the same day that his colleague, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, wrote to Congress denying there was any scheme to allow guns to “walk” over the border.
“The fact that the Department just produced this document on Friday shows the lengths to which you are willing to go to obstruct our investigation and deceived the public,” Issa alleged in his letter. “It is inconceivable that the Department just became aware of this highly damaging document.”
Issa and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa have been leading the battle to discover exactly how Fast and Furious was conceived and implemented. Both have accused Holder of stonewalling.
Grassley complained that the Justice Department has handed to Congress less than 10 percent of the documents it gave its own inspector general, after Holder had asked him to investigate.
In his new letter, Issa said, “Since the Department initially misrepresented the facts and misled Congress, it is necessary to investigate the Department¹s response to our investigation. Your actions lead us to conclude
that the Department is actively engaged in a cover-up.”
This is not the first time Issa has threatened contempt proceedings against Holder, although he upped the ante by putting it in writing.
During a bitter December hearing in which both the Watergate and McCarthy hearings were invoked, Issa told Holder he would be in contempt unless he had a valid reason not to produce more documents.
The Fast and Furious scandal has cost at least three Justice Department officials their jobs. The latest, Patrick Cunningham, chief of the Arizona U.S. attorney’s office criminal division, left his job on Monday. He previously had invoked his Fifth Amendment rights not to give evidence before Issa’s committee.
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