That was not enough for Issa. His committee is seeking all the internal deliberation documents from the period after Feb. 4, 2011, and it is not prepared to resolve the matter until it obtains them, congressional officials said.
House Republican leaders on Thursday maintained their plan to hold a vote next week on the contempt charges, but they have not set a date. Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said they will postpone or drop plans to hold a vote only if the Justice Department complies with the requests to disclose the documents.
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“What we want is the truth. And we want to get to the bottom of this,” Boehner said. He insisted that the vote is “about getting to the truth for the American people” and “not about personalities.”
But the Republican strategy had its own risks. Never before has the full House held the nation’s top lawyer in contempt. In 1998, a House committee voted to place then-Attorney General Janet Reno in contempt for not turning over Justice Department memos in a dispute over her not appointing an independent counsel to investigate 1996 campaign fundraising abuses by President Bill Clinton. The memos were disclosed months later, and the full House never voted on the contempt charges.
Jane Sherburne, a special counsel in the Clinton White House who is now in private practice, said Obama appeared to be justified in withholding the documents after efforts to reach a compromise failed. She said she would advise the White House to hang tough and take the full House contempt vote. Enforcement of a House contempt citation resides with the District’s U.S. attorney, who works for the Justice Department.
“I suppose the House Republicans could take the extreme position that the situation requires the appointment of an independent counsel to prosecute contempt. But I don’t see them taking the political risks that come with going that route. So a House vote may be the end of it, with both sides left to characterize it as they will,” she said.
Republicans seemed willing to try. “I’d like to be moving constructive, healthy policy, but there’s not going to be compromise on principle,” said Rep. Steve King (R-
Iowa), who plans to sue the Obama administration for the information Holder refuses to disclose.
Democrats think Republicans have painted themselves into a corner on the Holder proceedings and will appear focused on partisan attacks at a time when the economy is sputtering.
“It’s a bunch of silliness. It’s too political,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.) said.
Staff writers Rosalind S. Helderman and Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.