Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. failed to convince the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee late Tuesday to drop plans to hold him in contempt of Congress, meaning the panel is likely to vote Wednesday unless the Justice Department hands over documents related to the so-called “Fast and Furious” gunwalking scandal.
After days of communicating through written letters, Holder traveled to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee in hopes of reaching an agreement that would have the Justice Department hand over requested documents in exchange for the House panel dropping its plans to vote on contempt charges on Wednesday.
But oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he declined the offer and plans to move forward with a contempt motion, unless Holder produces the requested information before the 10 a.m. scheduled vote.
“If we receive no documents we’ll go forward, if we receive documents we’ll evaluate them and we’ll take some time as is necessary in delay to be sure of the quality of these documents,” Issa told reporters after the 20-minute meeting.
Holder told reporters after the meeting that his offer still stands and that Justice has made available “an unprecedented numberof documents.”
“I think the ball’s in their court. They rejected what I thought was an extraordinary offer on our part,” Holder said. “They have — I guess until they decide — they have the ability to change their minds.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the oversight panel, said after the meeting that Holder has been “very reasonable” in addressing congressional concerns, but added that the inquiry “is a legitimate duty of our committee.”
“Our committee has as part of its mission to investigate, but we also have as part of our mission to bring about a reform when that is appropriate,” Cummings said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who initiated congressional inquiries into Fast and Furious, said after the meeting that he supported Issa’s plans to move forward.
“The attorney general wants to trade a briefing and the promise of delivering some small, unspecified set of documents tomorrow for a free pass today,” Grassley said. “He wants to turn over only what he wants to turn over and not give us any information about what he’s not turning over. That’s unacceptable. I’m not going to buy a pig in a poke.”
Issa scheduled the vote to hold Holder in contempt after concluding with House Republican leaders that the Justice Department was withholding information sought as part of the committee’s investigation into the scandal.
Operation Fast and Furious was run out of the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives between 2009 and 2011, with the backing of the U.S. attorney in Phoenix. Federal agents targeting the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel did not interdict more than 2,000 guns they suspected of being bought illegally, in the hope of later tracking them to the cartel. The ATF lost track of most of the firearms, some of which have been found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.
Two of the guns connected to the botched operation were found at the Arizona site where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.
On Friday, Issa wrote Holder, saying that the delivery of particular documents to the committee on Wednesday would delay the contempt vote.
Justice officials have given Issa’s committee 7,600 pages of Fast and Furious documents in response to his subpoena last year for information on the operation. But Issa said those documents represent a sliver of the 80,000-plus documents that officials have turned over to the inspector general, which is also investigating the gun operation.
In recent weeks, Issa narrowed his request to the internal Justice deliberations since early February 2011, when Grassley first began asking Justice about Fast and Furious. On Feb. 4, 2011, the Justice Department sent the committee a letter denying use of the gunwalking tactics used in Fast and Furious. Officials were later forced to retract the letter after whistleblowers came forward and said they had used those very tactics.
Issa also has asked Justice for all documents related to the treatment of the whistleblowers.
For now, the House oversight panel is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday to debate and vote on holding Holder in contempt of Congress.
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