The long-running battle between Obama Attorney General Eric Holder and the Republicans in congress who think a cover-up related to the “Fast and Furious” scandal — where undercover U.S. agents lost automatic weapons they had sold to Mexican cartels — could take down the administration heated up today, as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines to hold Holder in contempt.
Holder had refused to cooperate with a subpeona issued by committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been trying to blow up the scandal’s profile since Republicans won back the house. The White House has pointed out that the Justice Department has cooperated with many investigations related to the scandal, and it was the previous administration that authorized the program. “The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the previous Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. In fact, the Justice Department has spent the past fourteen months accommodating Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings,” a White House spokesman said in an emailed statement to Politico. “Yet, Republicans insist on moving forward with an effort that Republicans and objective legal experts have noted is purely political.”
Holder is likely to survive a 23-17 party line vote at least until after the election, when it was already expected that he’d leave. The bigger news is buried in the nature of the White House’s response: They invoked executive priviliege in refusing to hand over the documents related to the scandal, basically saying that Congress had no constitutional reason to look at what happened. Democrats explained why they believed it was still OK to consider the administration transparent:
“I treat assertions of executive privilege very seriously, and I believe they should be used only sparingly,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat. “In this case, it seems clear that the administration was forced into this position by the committee’s unreasonable insistence on pressing forward with contempt despite the attorney general’s good faith offer.”
It’s unclear how much further House Republicans will press, but Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor said they’d bring up Holder’s case for a floor vote next week unless he relents.