(The Root) — Following last week’s House Oversight Committee vote, on Thursday the House voted 255-67 to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to the committee’s investigation into the “Fast and Furious” program.
Refusing to participate in the vote, most Democrats — led by the Congressional Black Caucus, and including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — walked out in protest.
“Once again the Republicans … have turned this tragedy into a political football,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) after the walkout, a resistance measure that Republican lawmakers also staged in 2008 during a vote to cite the then-White House chief of staff and a former White House counsel for contempt. “Instead of the House Republicans taking action to invest in jobs, they have used this investigation for political gain. It’s time to end the partisan witch hunt and to start working on the American people’s behalf.”
The House Oversight Committee’s investigation is probing whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms knowingly allowed firearms to be sold to drug cartels in Mexico. The committee specifically requested documents about why the Department of Justice withdrew as inaccurate a February 2011 letter sent to Congress that said top officials had only recently learned about Fast and Furious, as well as documents detailing how the Justice Department learned of problems with the operation.
“It’s important to remember how we got here,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on the House floor before the vote. “The Justice Department has not provided the facts and information we requested … It’s our constitutional duty to find out.”
While the committee’s chair, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), accuses the Department of Justice of knowing about the operation before it became public, recent reports by the Associated Press and an investigation by Fortune conclude that that’s not true.
Holder, who has submitted more than 7,600 pages of documents and appeared before Congress nine times, has not released the requested additional documents on the grounds that they contain confidential information about ongoing law-enforcement investigations. In remarks after the House vote, Holder said:
I had hoped that Congressional leaders would be good-faith partners in this work. Some have. Others, however, have devoted their time and attention to making reckless charges — unsupported by fact — and to advancing truly absurd conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, these same members of Congress were nowhere to be found when the Justice Department and others invited them to help look for real solutions to the terrible problem of violence on both sides of our Southwest Border. That’s tragic, and it’s irresponsible. The problem of drugs and weapons trafficking across this border is a real and significant public safety threat — and it deserves the attention of every leader in Washington.
The contempt citation will now move to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who could potentially file a criminal contempt. The charge carries a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.