In a letter to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the actions involved in the contempt vote do not "constitute a crime," Fox News reported. The House voted Thursday, mostly along party lines, to hold the attorney general in contempt for refusing to produce all the documents demanded by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the Fast and Furious "gun-walking" operation.
"Therefore the department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the attorney general," Cole wrote in the letter.
Cole cited a number of precedents, The Washington Post reported. In 1984, Theodore Olson, an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, said U.S. attorneys do not have to prosecute executive branch officials for contempt of Congress if they follow a president's instructions or invoke executive privilege. Attorney General Michael Mukasey in 2008 refused to bring contempt charges against President George W. Bush's chief of staff and general counsel.
Republicans in Congress reacted angrily to Cole's letter. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Cole "put the cart before the horse" by refusing to allow the U.S. attorney in Washington to make the decision.
Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the oversight committee and the driving force behind the Fast and Furious investigation, said in a statement, "It is regrettable that the political leadership of the Justice Department is trying to intervene in an effort to prevent the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from making an independent decision about whether to prosecute this case."