The House of Representatives is moving forward with proceedings to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress — a major escalation in the separation-of-powers battle over “Fast and Furious,” the Obama administration’s botched gun-walking operation.
Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, say Monday Congress needs to examine records regarding the Justice Department's conduct following public disclosures in early 2011 that hundreds of guns illicitly purchased at gun shops on the U.S. side of the border wound up in Mexico, many of them at crime scenes.
The hearing is scheduled for June 20.
"The Justice Department is out of excuses," House Speaker John Boehner said Monday. "Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into Fast and Furious," the name of the flawed law enforcement operation.
Issa said Congress has an obligation "to investigate unanswered questions about attempts to smear whistleblowers, failures by Justice Department officials to be truthful and candid with the congressional investigation and the reasons for the significant delay in acknowledging reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious."
The Justice Department says many of the documents deal with open criminal investigations and prosecutions - matters relating to sensitive law enforcement activities that cannot be disclosed.
Both Holder and President Obama have acknowledged the operation was wrong. But they said the operation was handled entirely by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employees, with little oversight at the Justice Department.
Issa, though, wants to know specifically who in the Justice Department knew of the operation’s tactics. He has obtained sealed affidavits supporting wiretaps that he says indicate top Justice officials knew the tactics.
His committee issued a subpoena for documents in October, and Issa said Monday that the Justice Department still is withholding information in violation of that.
“Specifically, the Justice Department has refused to turn over critical documents on the grounds that they show internal Department deliberations and were created after February 4, 2011 — the date Justice issued a false denial to Congress. Contempt will focus on the failure to provide these post February 4th documents,” Issa said.
Issa said the Justice Department hasn’t asserted any valid reasons to withhold information.
Last week, Holder told another House panel he would be willing to sit down with Boehner, Issa and other House Republican leaders to try to work out a solution.
This would be the first time the Obama administration has faced contempt of Congress proceedings.
House Democrats approved a contempt resolution against former White House adviser Karl Rove in 2008, seeking an interview with him on his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys. Rove refused an on-the-record sworn interview with congressional investigators, the Washington Times pointed out.
The House voted 223-32 to hold him in contempt, with most Republicans boycotting the vote.
In 2009, after President George W. Bush left office, Democrats and former Bush officials reached an agreement to produce documents and on-the-record testimony.
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