House votes to hold Holder in contempt over gun documents
Democrats called the contempt votes an effort to embarrass the Obama administration in an election year, with some accusing the Republicans of racism for challenging the African-American attorney general.
House holds Holder in contempt
WASHINGTON — The House held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress on Thursday for refusing to turn over internal documents discussing the Justice Department's botched "Operation Fast and Furious" gun-tracking program.
Republicans said they needed to take the step because Holder is refusing to hand over some internal emails discussing the Justice Department's discussions of the operation. Democrats called the charges an effort to embarrass the Obama administration in an election year, with some accusing the Republicans of racism for challenging the African-American attorney general.
The votes to hold Holder in both civil and criminal contempt made him the first sitting U.S. attorney general held in contempt by the House.
The House first voted 255-67 to hold Holder in criminal contempt.
After warnings from the National Rifle Association that it considered the actions against Holder a loyalty test, 17 Democrats voted with Republicans for contempt. Only two Republicans, Reps. Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Scott Rigell of Virginia, voted no.
The civil-contempt count passed 258-95, with five Democrats voting "present." Twenty-one Democrats voted with Republicans and 85 Democrats didn't vote.
The House is expected to refer the criminal-contempt charge to Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to decide whether to press charges against Holder, his boss. Based on approval of the civil-contempt charge, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is expected to mount a court challenge to President Obama's decision to invoke executive privilege over some of the documents sought by the panel.
A citation for contempt of Congress carries symbolic weight; its practical impact is limited because the executive branch controls prosecution decisions.
Holder, who was in Orlando, Fla., addressing the League of United Latin American Citizens convention Thursday, denounced the votes as "the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year."
More than half of the House's 191 Democrats marched out of the chamber before the first vote to protest the proceedings rather than cast ballots. Some accused the Republicans of racism for challenging Holder.
"This is not about oversight; this is about overkill," House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said outside the Capitol.
The walkout exemplified an angry, sometimes personal, debate in which Democrats accused Republicans of conducting a politically motivated attack to discredit Holder and weaken President Obama in an election year.
Republicans, in turn, charged Democrats with helping Holder's Justice Department withhold documents — and the truth — behind Fast and Furious, stalling an investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Under Fast and Furious, about 2,500 illegal weapons were circulated on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Two of those weapons were recovered at the scene of the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in 2010.
The Justice Department has refused to turn over some documents subpoenaed by the committee, saying it had provided the committee more than 7,000 pages of materials related to Fast and Furious. Obama last week asserted executive privilege, blocking release of the additional materials.
Material from The Washington Post and The New York Times is included in this report.