A Republican-controlled House committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Justice Department documents.
The party-line vote was 23-17. The controversy goes next to the full House, which is to vote next week unless there is some resolution in the meantime.
The vote followed a decision by President Barack Obama earlier in the day to assert executive privilege for the first time in his administration in order to protect the confidentiality of the documents.
The last Cabinet member to be cited by a congressional committee for contempt was Attorney General Janet Reno in President Bill Clinton's administration.
The recommendation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next will go to the full House for a vote. Speaker John Boehner's office said that vote would occur next week unless a resolution concerning the documents is worked out before then.
Earlier in the day, in a letter to the committee chairman, Darrell Issa of California, a Justice Department official said the president had invoked executive privilege.
The official said the privilege applies to documents that explain how the Justice Department learned there were problems with an investigation in Arizona of gun-running into Mexico, called Operation Fast and Furious.
At the start of a hearing, Issa called the president's action "an untimely" assertion of privilege.
Technically, if the full House approved a contempt citation, there could be a federal criminal case against Holder, but history strongly suggests the matter won't get that far.
"The president has asserted executive privilege," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in the letter to Issa. "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."
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