House charges Eric Holder with contempt of Congress

4:23 PM, Jun 28, 2012   |    comments
Attorney General Eric Holder
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(CBS News) -- The House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress Thursday for failing to provide documents relating to the Fast and Furious gunwalking program.

The first vote, 255-67, charged Holder with criminal contempt of Congress but is likely not to go anywhere as the Justice Department, which Holder heads, is the department responsible for opening a criminal investigation.

The second, the civil contempt charge, could move to federal court where it could take years to litigate. Though the action puts more pressure on the administration to abide by the subpoenas and provide requested documents.

The Democratic Party was split on the action. Seventeen voted with the Republicans to hold Holder in contempt, while others, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, walked off the floor to protest the vote, which they called "appalling."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi voted "no" on the contempt vote she said is "predicated on a false premise," noting that this is the first contempt vote of a cabinet member is the first in American history.

Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement, calling the vote against him "a regrettable culmination of what became a misguided - and politically motivated - investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety."

White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said gunwalking dated back to President George W. Bush's administration and was stopped by Holder. "Yet, Republicans pushed for political theater rather than legitimate Congressional oversight," he said.

"Unfortunately, a politically-motivated agenda prevailed and instead of engaging with the President in efforts to create jobs and grow the economy, today we saw the House of Representatives perform a transparently political stunt," Pfeiffer said in a statement.

The contempt does not address the controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' Fast and Furious operation itself, which allowed more than 2,000 weapons to fall into the hands of suspected traffickers for Mexican drug cartels and where at least one gun was found at the murder scene of U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry. Instead, it is about subpoenaed documents the Justice Department is withholding from Congress in the investigation.

Holder has testified before Congress nine times and turned over thousands of pages of documents. But Republicans investigating the scandal say the answers to many outstanding questions could lie in tens of thousands of pages of documents the Justice Department has failed to turn over citing that they're part of the internal deliberative process or ongoing investigations.

Several weeks of closed door discussions between members of Congress, their staff, Justice Department officials and even Holder himself resulted in a stalemate. President Obama granted Holder's request for executive privilege to keep the documents from Congress, but House Republicans question if the action is further evidence of a cover up.

The Justice Department had offered to provide a "fair compilation" of the outstanding documents if Republicans on the House Oversight Committee would agree -- in advance -- to end their investigation once and for all. Republicans balked when the Justice Department refused to provide a log of the withheld documents and descriptions of why they were being held back, as routinely required in court disputes of this nature.

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