GOP, Dems clash over Holder contempt vote

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington, April 18, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington, April 18, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

WASHINGTON, June 22 (UPI) -- Speaker John Boehner says a House vote on holding the U.S. attorney general in contempt is about "the truth" but the White House says it's "about politics."

Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Thursday they would not postpone or cancel next week's vote to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over a botched gun-trafficking operation unless the Justice Department complies with a House committee's requests to disclose certain documents.


"What we want is the truth. And we want to get to the bottom of this," Boehner told reporters.

He insisted the vote would be "about getting to the truth for the American people" -- and when asked if Holder should resign over the matter, he said "it's not about personalities."


Boehner said the family of slain U.S. border agent Brian Terry had a right to know about the guns that killed him.

"The Terry family deserves answers about why their son was killed as a result of an operation run by the United States government," Boehner said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the hard-line approach by Boehner and other GOP leaders nothing more than an attempt by "Republican members of Congress to try to score political points."

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Such tactics help explain "at least in part why this Congress has the lowest public approval ratings of any in memory, if not history," Carney said.

"This is about politics -- it is not about an effort to divine the truth in a serious matter," he said.

The apparent brinkmanship stems from a House oversight committee claim the Justice Department may have sought to mislead the committee about the gun-trafficking investigation, known as "Operation Fast and Furious," when it said incorrectly in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter that the operation did not use a controversial tactic, officially against Justice Department policy, called gun-walking.

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The 2009-2011 Fast and Furious operation was part of a strategy begun during the administration of former President George W. Bush to combat Mexican drug cartels.


The operation, run by Arizona agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, used gun-walking, which let suspected smugglers buy more than 2,000 firearms -- including AK-47 variants, .50-caliber sniper rifles, .38-caliber revolvers and semi-automatic pistols -- without intercepting the weapons.

The stated goal of permitting the purchases was to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key Mexican cartel figures, which would presumably lead to the figures' arrests and the cartels' dismantling.

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But the agents lost track of several hundred of the weapons.

Some guns later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including at a Dec. 14, 2010, shootout in which Terry was killed.

The gun-walking operation became public after Terry's death.

When the committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., pressed for internal Justice Department memos, President Barack Obama Wednesday invoked executive privilege, seeking to block Republicans from gaining access to some documents about the operation.

Executive privilege lets the president and other executive branch members resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the government's legislative and judicial branches. It is part of the separation of powers doctrine.


The Justice Department is part of the executive branch.

Issa's committee seeks all the internal deliberation documents from the period after Feb. 4, 2011, and it is not prepared to resolve the matter until it gets them, congressional officials told The Washington Post.

The Justice Department has already turned over 7,600 documents.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday the Republican focus on the contempt issue is part of a broader Republican desire to affect November's elections.

"It is no accident, it is no coincidence, that the attorney general of the United States is the person responsible for making sure that voter suppression does not happen in our country," Pelosi said.

She suggested Republican House oversight committee members who voted along party lines Wednesday in favor of the contempt measure "are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote."

Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said in a statement Pelosi's accusation was "offensive and wrong."

CBS News reported in December ATF officials had discussed using Fast and Furious to argue for controversial new gun-sale regulations.

It cited ATF e-mails suggesting that if enough dangerous weapons were on the street, the agency would have enough anecdotal cases to justify a new gun regulation called Demand Letter 3.


The regulation would have required some gun stores to report the sale of multiple rifles.

Fox News Channel posted the Dec. 7, 2011, CBS News story on its Web site Thursday.

Even though gun-walking has been against Justice Department policy for years, Arizona ATF agents tested it in at least two investigations during the Bush administration -- Operation Wide Receiver in 2006-2007 and a smaller 2007 probe.

After Obama took office in 2009, the Justice Department reviewed Wide Receiver and found guns had been allowed into the hands of suspected gun traffickers.

Nine people were later charged with making false statements in the acquisition and illegal transfer, shipment or delivery of firearms.

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