“I’ve been doing all of these things all the time Darrell Issa and his band have been nipping at my heels,” a defiant Holder said. “They’ve been nipping, but I’ve been walking.”
The attorney general has long been a lightning rod for Republican lawmakers’ anger toward the Obama administration. But Holder said the debate over documents related to the gun operation, known as “Fast and Furious” — along with the National Rifle Association’s attempts to make it an electoral issue — have made matters worse.
“I’ve become a symbol of what they don’t like about the positions this Justice Department has taken,” he said. “I am also a proxy for the president in an election year. You have to be exceedingly naive to think that vote was about . . . documents.”
The House voted Thursday to make Holder the first sitting attorney general in U.S. history to be held in contempt, after he withheld certain documents that lawmakers have demanded as part of their investigation of Fast and Furious.
As part of the gun operation, run by the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, federal agents watched as more than 2,000 guns hit the streets; their goal was to trace them to a Mexican drug cartel. Two guns linked to the operation were later found at the scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.
The Justice Department has provided Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with 7,600 documents on Fast and Furious. Republicans, however, have pressed for more records about the department’s internal deliberations, saying they want to determine who knew about the operation and when. They have also questioned why Obama invoked executive privilege to keep the documents from them.
“As often as [Holder] has tried to cast himself and his other controversies as the reason for the investigation, he still doesn’t acknowledge the simple truth,” Issa said Monday. “The citation for contempt had his name on it because the lawfully issued subpoena for documents issued nine months ago, that his department didn’t comply with, also had his name on it.”
Issa added that Holder “can say over and over that this is all about him, but that isn’t true.”
Defending his actions
In the interview, in a stately fifth-floor conference room at the Justice Department, the attorney general defended his handling of the case, saying that when he found out about Fast and Furious, he ordered an internal investigation, stopped the use of certain tactics in gun cases and made personnel changes. He also reiterated his belief that turning over the documents would have a “chilling effect” on department lawyers who prepare materials for cases.