When the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, it made history: Holder became the first sitting cabinet member to suffer the indignity of such a House action. But House leaders say it wasn’t the history books they were aiming at in calling for the vote; it was getting to the truth about Fast and Furious.
IN A HISTORIC VOTE, HOUSE HOLDS ERIC HOLDER IN CONTEMPT
Fast and Furious is the name of the by-now infamous gun-running sting operation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The activity was coordinated by the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. It was failure in every respect, but failure isn’t fatal in government. Covering up failure often is, however, and probing a cover-up is where House committee hearings on the operation ended up after months of listening to sworn testimony.
Specifically, Holder is accused of not being forthcoming with Justice Department records that would show when department officials became aware of the failed gun-running. This is high-octane stuff because the department at one point denied knowing anything at all about Fast and Furious. Then the officials redacted their denial after a lapse of months, yet refused to provide documentation of who discussed the operation, when, and why. This all is pertinent.
The refusal to comply with requests for internal communications was finally capped with a claim of executive privilege by the Obama White House. While the legal maneuver effectively thwarted the handing over of documents by Holder, it immediately raised the question of why the administration would go to such lengths to frustrate House investigators. An unsurprising conclusion reached by many is that the order was issued to avoid embarrassing the president.
HOLDER IN CONTEMPT WITH FAST AND FURIOUS
In the end, 17 Democrats joined most Republicans in the House to hold Holder in contempt. That made the vote respectably bipartisan and undercut the administration’s talking point of partisanship and election-year politics. Though the attorney general in all likelihood will not be prosecuted—after all, it is his Justice Department’s call—the upshot of the House vote is a higher profile for an awkward issue President Obama will have to face in the campaign.