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Fast and Furious: Eric Holder held in contempt

Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday became the first Obama administration official to be held in contempt by a congressional panel. Ed O’Keefe and Sari Horwitz reported from the House Oversight and Government reform Committee hearing on Holder:

A House panel voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for failing to cooperate with a congressional inquiry into Operation “Fast and Furious,” hours after President Obama asserted executive privilege over related documents.

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.

Read the full list

The Fix’s Chris Cillizza posted on the Obama administration’s response to the congressional panel, including deciding to invoke executive privilege over documents related to “Fast and Furious”:

President Obama’s decision to invoke executive privilege over documents sought by congressional Republicans in connection with the so-called “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking program will surely up the political ante over an issue that has long been a touchstone for conservatives.

Republicans have long insisted that Attorney General Eric Holder should be held responsible for the failures of the program and several elected officials — including Texas Sen. John Cornyn — have called for Holder’s resignation.

The White House has insisted they have been more than accommodating to congressional requests — releasing over 7,600 pages of documents related to the “Fast and Furious” program and testifying at 11 congressional hearings on the matter.

Regardless of the rightness (or wrongness — is that a word?) of the Obama decision, what it amounts to politically is a pressing down of the gas pedal in this ongoing game of political chicken.

Issa, meanwhile is showing no signs of turning the wheel either; his committee is set to hold a contempt vote regarding Holder’s refusal to hand over documents today.

What this ante-upping on both sides will do is fuel Republicans’ suspicions about not only the program but how the Administration has handled the program. “The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation or the cover-up that followed,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio).

In short: If you didn’t like Obama before, you hate him now.

For the rest of the country, the impact is likely negligible. While the debate over “Fast and Furious” — and the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches — is an important one, it is also decidedly complex, meaning that most undecided voters simply won’t engage on it.

No matter how “Fast and Furious” ultimately turns out, this will be (yet another) motivator for an already very enthusiastic Republican base to turn out in hopes of ousting President Obama from office. For everyone else, it’s not likely to move many votes — either way.


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