In the coming days, House Republicans plan to refer their criminal contempt charge against Holder to Ronald C. Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
But in a letter sent to Boehner on Friday explaining the Justice Department’s decision, Deputy Attorney General James Cole cited a Reagan-era legal analysis that said U.S. attorneys are not required to prosecute congressional contempt charges if the individual was carrying out a president’s instructions to invoke executive privilege.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) disputed Cole’s decision, saying Machen should have no difficulty prosecuting Holder because he is already leading an investigation into the possible leak of classified information by Obama administration officials to reporters.
Earlier this year, Altmire lost in a primary election to Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.), after the two incumbents’ districts were merged in redistricting. Critz, facing a tough Republican challenge, also voted for the contempt resolution.
“The gun guys are really [angry],” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (Ohio), one of two Republicans who voted with Democrats to oppose criminal contempt.
He said he explained to constituents that he supported a second resolution Thursday to allow the House to initiate civil proceedings to force the attorney general to turn over records.
“Some of them calmed down,” he said. “And some are convinced I’m a RINO pinkie, and I won’t get them back no matter what I do.”
Of the 17 Democrats, all but one had previously received NRA endorsements, highly coveted by Democrats running in conservative districts.
Arulanandam said it is too early to say whether lawmakers who opposed contempt might lose their endorsement. But, he added: “We said we would support this vote and this vote counted. We meant it, and it will.”
Staff writer Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.