House finds Atty. Gen. Eric Holder in contempt of Congress

June 29, 2012
By Richard A. Serrano, The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives found Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress on Thursday, creating a bitter political break between two branches of government and sending it to the courts to decide whether the attorney general must release internal records dealing with Fast and Furious.

The votes approved in the Republican-controlled House covered two contempt of Congress citations — one as a criminal matter referring the issue to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington for prosecution, the other authorizing the House to hire a special attorney to bring a civil lawsuit.

Both, if successful, would force Holder to turn over 1,500 pages of material dealing with how he and other Justice Department officials dealt with the scandal over the gun-tracking case after it became public. Republicans allege that there has been a cover-up to hide the department’s involvement. How far they will get remains uncertain, as President Obama has asserted executive privilege in keeping the documents under seal.

Before the votes were cast, no sitting Cabinet member had ever been found in contempt by Congress, and the weight of history hung heavily over the chamber as Republicans charged that the Obama administration was stonewalling and Democrats dismissed the contempt vote as partisan political theater.

At the start of the voting, about 100 Democrats led by Congressional Black Caucus members, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), marched quietly out of the House chamber, in single and double-file, expressing solidarity with Holder and the president. Outside, they walked down the Capitol steps and, holding hands, gathered at a small park.

“We are nonparticipants in what we believe to be a calamity,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.). “This is a terrible day for the House of Representatives. We did not want to participate in something that had some kind of a smell to it.”

Inside, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) fired back. “The attorney general can stonewall all he wants,” he said. “He can misremember all he wants. But today responsibility will land on his desk.”

Holder, standing before a photograph of Obama, defiantly announced that he would not be deterred from his job. He also showed no inclination to provide the documents.

“Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year,” the attorney general said. He added that the debate and votes were “good political theater” but also “a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.”

The vote for criminal contempt was 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats voted for contempt, some after being warned by the National Rifle Assn. that it would include the vote in a score card it planned to release before the congressional election. A total of 108 Democrats did not vote, and one voted “present.” Two Republicans voted against it.

The vote for civil contempt was 258 to 95. Twenty-one Democrats crossed over and voted for contempt, five voted “present” and 70 did not vote at all. No Republicans voted against it.

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