WASHINGTON â€” TheÂ House of RepresentativesÂ 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 â€” 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 otherÂ Justice DepartmentÂ officials dealt with the scandal over the gun-tracking case after it became public.Â RepublicansÂ allege that there has been a cover-up to hide the department’s involvement. How far they will get remains uncertain, asÂ President ObamaÂ 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 andÂ DemocratsÂ 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 LeaderÂ Nancy PelosiÂ (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.Â Emanuel Cleaver IIÂ (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.”