The House of Representatives voted Thursday to pass a resolution holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, spurred by his refusal to turn over documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gunwalker program.
The floor vote of HR 708 was the latest action in a contentious 18-month House Oversight Committee investigation led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “This was not the outcome I had sought and it could have been avoided had Attorney General Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide,” Issa said in a statement.
The final vote was 255 in favor and 67 against, 1 present, with 110 representatives not voting. The vote mostly followed party lines, but 17 Democrats sided with Republicans in supporting the resolution, with two Republicans voting against.
Holder has said that he cannot turn over the documents because they would jeopardize current investigations. On Thursday, he questioned the intentions behind HR 708. “Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided—and politically motivated—investigation during an election year,” he said in statement, adding that “Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety.”
Rep. Issa said the committee is “fighting for the truth and accountability for the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.” Border patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered near Rico Rio, Ariz., in December 2010. He was shot with an AK-47 traced back to the Fast and Furious program.
“We are here discussing the death of a border patrol agent. For me it is particularly troubling that we are politicizing the death of a border patrol agent,” said Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) at the hearing. Reyes is a former border patrol agent.
According to Fox News, Robert Heyer, a friend of the Terry family and chairman of the Brian Terry Foundation, said in a June 28 statement that the House vote “should not have been necessary,” and accused the attorney general and the president of standing in the way of justice.
President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege for the first time in his presidency to protect the documents related to the gunwalker program. Rep. Issa, in a letter to the president June 25, challenged the assertion of the privilege.
More than 100 Democrats—led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus—walked out of the session in protest, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. She called the vote “a heinous act,” and said she was very moved by the Black Caucus walkout. She also said the papers the committee had asked for would clear Holder of any wrongdoing, “and they know it.”
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) saw the vote as an obligation. “Every member of Congress should do their duty and vote to hold Holder in contempt,” he said. “The people of Arizona live in fear because of these weapons.”
Immediately after the vote, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) introduced a resolution to ask a court to compel Holder to produce the documents Issa had been seeking. It also passed.Issa has said the documents will show if members of the Obama administration covered up the facts of the case.
The Watergate-era mantra of “what did he know and when did he know it” was repeated by more than one of the representatives during the floor debate.
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) returned from the Black Caucus walkout to say that there was no evidence of a cover-up by Holder. “It is the most irresponsible allegation of this debate,” she said.
Holder defended his actions in the investigation. “When concerns about Fast and Furious came to light, I took action … I took extraordinary steps to ensure congressional oversight. That was my response to Fast and Furious … Others have advanced truly absurd, truly absurd, conspiracy theories. It’s tragic and irresponsible.”
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