On a party-line decision, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 23 to 17 to hold Holder in contempt for failing to share documents related to the operation 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.
The panel’s actions will be reported to the full House, where Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and GOP leaders have scheduled a floor vote for next week unless Holder hands over the documents before then. If passed by the House, the matter would then move to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen Jr., who is an employee of the Justice Department.
After the vote, Holder called the vote a “divisive action” that “does nothing to make any of our law enforcement agents safer.”
“It’s an election-year tactic intended to distract attention -- and, as a result -- has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people,” Holder said.
Obama’s decision to withhold the documents — his first use of executive privilege in response to a congressional investigation — and the House panel’s vote quickly intensified a long-simmering feud between the White House and Republican lawmakers and set up a clash over the extent of presidential power that may take months to resolve.
Ahead of the vote, Holder said in a letter to Obama that sharing the Fast and Furious documents “would raise substantial separation of powers concerns and potentially create an imbalance in the relationship” between Congress and the White House.
Holder would join the ranks of previous cabinet officials held in contempt, as In the Loop’s Al Kamen reported:
He would be joining a long list of well-known officials from prior administrations who lost committee — or even full House or Senate — contempt votes, including two former attorneys general, according to a list compiled by the Congressional Research Service last month.
The list, since 1980, includes:
Former Bush White House counsel Harriet Miers, chief of staff Josh Bolten and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove over documents and testimony in the investigation into the firing of U.S. attorneys.
Former Clinton attorney general Janet Reno, for failing to turn over documents involved in an inquiry into whether Justice failed to investigate or prosecute cases involving Democratic donors.
Reagan attorney general William French Smith for refusing to produce documents on an investigation of General Dynamics Corp.