The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee could vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The Justice Department says it’s personal – that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, holds the nation’s top lawyer, Eric Holder in contempt, and is using the framework of government to embarrass the Attorney General.
There seems to be enough contempt between the committee and the Justice Department to go around. But behind it are very real issues of separation of powers and the ability of Congress to determine responsibility for an embarrassing chapter in recent history known as “Fast and Furious.”
Issa, in scheduling the contempt-of-Congress vote in his committee for June 20, says that Holder has “failed to meet his legal obligations” by not providing the committee documents relating to Fast and Furious. The purpose of the operation was to permit a Mexican gun cartel to buy firearms, in hopes of tracking the guns to the cartel. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lost track of many of the guns, sold in 2009 and 2010. They’ve turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the Mexican border in Arizona – one of them near Tucson, where a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent was killed.
Holder has testified before Congress nine times regarding Fast and Furious, most recently before the Senate this week. But he has balked at providing Issa’s committee more than a fraction of the documents they have asked for.
Holder’s staff is working behind the scenes to avoid a committee vote on whether Holder should be held in contempt of Congress, but Issa seems determined to proceed. If the committee passes a vote, it would require Speaker John Boehner to schedule a floor vote on the question. And that would provide political complications for both parties.
The Obama administration naturally doesn’t want the embarrassment of having a Cabinet member held in contempt of Congress. And Republican leaders don’t want their message of the administration’s stewardship of the national economy interfered with.
Holder’s surrogates have called the timing of the contempt vote politically motivated. But that ignores the fact that the Justice Department could have dealt with this crisis much more forthrightly several months ago.
We have had significant disagreements with Holder on issues more closely related to CMC’s mission. Specifically, we have taken issue with his insistence that state efforts to assure the integrity of elections, through photo-ID laws and, more recently, Florida’s effort to remove dead persons and illegal immigrants from the voter rolls are racially motivated. He’s also sued to stop individual states who are determined not to participate in federal funding of Planned Parenthood, which this administration has given most-favored-“charity” status. His actions on Fast and Furious seem of a piece with a mindset to use the Justice Department as a political tool.
Holder claimed in his June 12 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the threat of a House committee contempt vote against him was a “constitutional conflict.” It’s not; it’s an example of the balance of powers between the three branches of government working the way it’s supposed to. What Holder seemingly doesn’t realize is that his behavior led to this “crisis.”