WASHINGTON – Republican House leaders have drafted a proposed contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder in which they charge that he and his Justice Department have repeatedly “obstructed and slowed” the Capitol Hill investigation into the ATF’s flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.
The 48-page draft citation is being drawn up by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Top committee officials recently met for most of a day in the House speaker’s office and were given the green light to proceed toward a contempt citation, according to sources who declined to be identified.
If adopted by the GOP-led House, the contempt resolution would be sent to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington or an independent counsel in an attempt to force the Justice Department to provide tens of thousands of internal documents to the committee.
A contempt resolution would also escalate a political feud between Issa and the Obama administration.
Earlier this week Issa called the Obama White House “the most corrupt in government history.” At a hearing in December, he compared Holder to disgraced Attorney General John Mitchell from the President Richard Nixon era, a comment that prompted Holder to fire back in language reminiscent of the bitter Senate hearings led by former Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis.: “Have you no shame?”
Holder and other Justice Department officials insist they are cooperating with congressional investigators. Holder said the department had responded to more than three dozen letters from members of Congress and facilitated numerous witness interviews. The department has submitted or made available more than 6,400 pages of documents, he said.
“This has been a significant undertaking for department employees,” Holder testified before the committee in February. “And our efforts in this regard remain ongoing.”
Holder also cautioned that “the separation of powers concerns are particularly acute here,” especially since there were still several “open criminal investigations and prosecutions” from the Fast and Furious case.
The operation – run by the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from 2009 to early last year – allowed illegal gun purchases in hopes of tracking the weapons to Mexican drug cartel leaders. Instead, hundreds of guns vanished, and scores turned up at crime scenes in Mexico.
Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, contend that they have received far more documents from ATF whistle-blowers than have been turned over by the Justice Department.
Holder has sharply denied that he or other Justice Department officials were aware that the ATF purposely allowed illegal weapons to circulate on the border. As soon as he learned of the “gun-walking tactics” used in Fast and Furious, he said, he called for a Justice Department inspector general investigation.