Entries in Contempt of Congress (4)


Justice Department Won’t Prosecute Holder for Contempt

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After Congress found the nation’s top law enforcement officer in contempt Thursday, the Department of Justice quickly wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner informing him that it will not prosecute U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for withholding documents in a congressional investigation of the Fast and Furious gun walking operation.

“The longstanding position of the Department of Justice has been and remains that we will not prosecute an Executive Branch official under the contempt of Congress statute for withholding subpoenaed documents pursuant to a presidential assertion of executive privilege,” James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general, wrote in a letter dated June 28 and addressed to the Speaker.

The House voted Thursday to pass a resolution which, for the first time in U.S. history, found a sitting U.S. attorney general in criminal contempt of Congress.

DOJ’s response does not come as a complete surprise. Historically when Congress votes to hold someone in contempt, the report is referred to the U.S. attorney of the District of Columbia for prosecution. But Holder’s case is unprecedented, going after the same official tasked with overseeing the department that’s charged with enforcing contempt.

The letter, which was also sent to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Reps. Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings, goes on to cite legal precedent of executive privilege claims during Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush’s administrations as justification for its refusal to prosecute Holder.

“Consistent with this uniform position and practice, the Department has determined that the Attorney General’s response to the subpoena issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does not constitute a crime, and therefore the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General,” the letter concludes.

Congressional GOP sources expect the Oversight and Government Reform committee to work with the House general counsel to pursue the case in federal court with the hope that a court will ultimately compel Holder to hand over the outstanding documents.

Republicans also passed a second resolution Thursday that found Holder in civil contempt of Congress. That resolution authorizes the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform “to initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings to enforce certain subpoenas.”

Still, that process could take months or even years.

“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,” Frederick Hill, director of communications at the Oversight committee, said, reacting to the letter.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


GOP Rejects White House Appeal on Holder Contempt Vote over Fast and Furious Scandal

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Days before the House of Representatives is scheduled to take an unprecedented vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, Obama administration officials and House Republican aides met Tuesday at the White House in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the standoff over documents related to the Fast and Furious gun walking operation.

The operation allowed thousands of firearms to "walk" across the border where they found their way into the hands of Mexican drug cartel members and other criminals. The firearms have been linked to the murders of an unknown number of Mexican citizens, and the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. 

Those participating in the meeting included White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Justice Department associate deputy attorney general Steven Reich, and staff representing House Speaker John Boehner and Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, although neither lawmaker was there.

At the meeting, GOP staffers from the speaker’s office and the Oversight and Government Reform committee were permitted to briefly look at about 30 pages of documents, but both sides were unable to strike an agreement to avoid the contempt vote Thursday.

The hour-long meeting was described by a senior Obama administration official and GOP congressional sources as, “picking-up on the offer DOJ made last Tuesday to the Committee” and was a product of a previous conversation between the speaker’s office and the White House.

“At the time [last week], Republicans rejected the offer because they claimed to be uncomfortable making a deal without seeing the documents,” the administration official told ABC. “In response, today we reached out and showed them a representative sample of the documents so they could see first-hand the types of communications in contention. This offer would result in the committee getting unprecedented access to documents showing how the Department responded to the Committee’s inquiry and would dispel any notion of an intent to mislead Congress.”

A congressional GOP aide who asked not to be identified also told ABC the offer was essentially the same as what Holder had presented Issa at the Capitol a week ago: A promise to make a compilation of documents available if the committee ends its investigation and takes contempt off the table. That offer was flatly rejected again Tuesday.

Republicans also asked the White House whether it was willing to make a log available of the documents that the president would continue invoking executive privilege over, but the officials made clear that was “off the table,” according to a congressional source.

“White House officials made clear they haven’t changed their position,” one GOP aide said. “The meeting ended with no clear expectation to meet again or have further discussions, but it wasn’t a hostile ending.”

Now, unless the standoff can be resolved before the scheduled contempt vote, Washington is bracing for a partisan battle on the House floor Thursday.

“This was a good-faith effort to resolve this while still protecting the institutional prerogatives of the Executive Branch, often championed by these same Republicans criticizing us right now,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “Unfortunately Republicans have opted for political theater rather than conduct legitimate Congressional oversight.”

Critics contend Holder's Justice Department -- backed by Obama's use of executive privelege to "freeze" the documents -- are attempts to obfuscate the true extent of Holder's, and some say, the White House's involvement in the program. The White House denies any attempt at a cover up.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Contempt Vote Still Planned for Wednesday After Issa Rejects Holder’s Proposal

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder took a brief ride from the Department of Justice to the Capitol late Tuesday afternoon to meet with top lawmakers from both parties, trying to avoid an embarrassing contempt vote scheduled for Wednesday. But his proposal was quickly rejected by Congress’s own top cop.

Holder has faced a steady stream of criticism since news of the Fast and Furious operation broke from the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa. He told reporters after their meeting that the Department of Justice had made an “unprecedented number of documents available” in order to lay out a plan that would bring a resolution to the standoff. Now, Holder says, the next move is up to Issa.

“There was no intention to mislead, or deceive. This is material that we think was not even called for in some of the…subpoenas that we have received. We nevertheless thought in good faith and as I said in an attempt to resolve this matter that we would make this material available,” Holder said. “The ball is in their court. They rejected what I thought was an extraordinary offer on our part. They have I guess until they decide. They have the ability to change their minds.”

The attorney general maintained that given the “extraordinary nature” of his department’s compliance, further friction with the committee would be “political gamesmanship.”

“Nevertheless we are prepared to provide these materials, to brief on these materials, to answer questions on these materials,” Holder said.

Afterwards, Issa told reporters that he was “disappointed” Holder had not provided committee investigators with documents or answers that the panel has long sought in the Fast and Furious gun walking probe, but he was holding out hope that the department would comply with his requests before Wednesday’s proceedings begin at 10:00 a.m.

“[Holder] came with an offer of a briefing. We went through the process of what was being offered and responded as I think we have to. Which is that the document that they may choose to give in the future, we need to have before tomorrow,” said Issa, a California Republican. “Ultimately, the documents necessary to cause a postponement appear to be in their possession. We’re hoping that we have them tonight. If we can evaluate them even partially, then that will give us grounds to negotiate a postponement and perhaps a final resolution.”

While the contempt vote appears to be on schedule, Issa hinted that he could still postpone it.

“The deadline will always move to the very last minute. We always want to be respectful that if we get the information or any information that allows us to rethink contempt and, in fact, make progress on behalf of Brian Terry’s family and the American people,” Issa said.

The chairman was referring to the U.S. Border Patrol officer who was killed by weapons Mexican criminals obtained through the operation.

“We have no hard deadlines,” Issa said. “We do have a markup marked up for tomorrow. If we receive no documents, we’ll go forward. If we receive documents, we’ll evaluate them, and we’ll take such time as is necessary in delay to be sure of the quality of these documents and whether they’re sufficient.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rep. Darrell Issa Threatens AG Eric Holder with Contempt of Congress

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The undercover, gun-walking operation was called “Fast and Furious.”

Now, some furious congressional investigators want to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly blocking their efforts to get the facts about the controversial operation -- a charge the Justice Department “strongly disputes.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government reform, Thursday circulated the draft contempt order to his colleagues.  It asks them to hold Holder in contempt for his alleged “failure to comply with a Congressional subpoena” in the “Fast and Furious” investigation.

“Fast and Furious” was a botched, undercover-operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) that resulted in assault weapons being ‘walked’ from American gun stores across the border into Mexico, and into the hands of alleged drug cartel members.  ATF’s plan was to use undercover “straw purchasers” to buy the guns, track their illegal movement into Mexico, then arrest the drug cartel members receiving and using the guns in criminal acts.  But the agency lost track of many of the weapons and few arrests were made.

Issa’s draft contempt citation against the attorney general charges that around 2,000 firearms fell into the hands of drug cartels and may have lead to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent as a result of Operation Fast and Furious. And he alleges that the Justice Department failed to provide many of the documents about the operation that the committee requested during its investigation.

“The [Justice] Department’s refusal to work with compel the production of these documents and information related to this controversy is inexcusable and cannot stand,” Issa wrote. “Those responsible for allowing Fast and Furious to proceed and those who are preventing the truth about the operation from coming out must be held accountable for their actions.”

But a Department of Justice official strongly disputed the charge that the department has not complied with the committee’s requests for documents and information, citing the turning over of more than 7,600 pages as part of 46 separate productions of documents.  The official also pointed out that Attorney General Holder has testified to Congress on “Fast and Furious” seven times in the last year and a half, and the Justice Department has provided many other officials to congressional investigators.

On Thursday evening the Justice Department formally responded to Issa’s claims and threat to move forward with the contempt resolution.

“The department strongly disputes the contention that we have failed to cooperate with the committee’s review of Operation Fast and Furious as asserted in the staff briefing paper and draft contempt of Congress resolution that the Committee released today,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote in a letter Thursday.

“Some have questioned why the department’s inspector general has received a greater number of documents than have been provided to the committee,” Cole added. “The answer lies in the fact that the Office of Inspector General, as a component of the department, is entitled in these circumstances to review material that is not appropriate for disclosure outside the department.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who is conducting the “Fast and Furious” investigation in the Senate, has offered support for Issa’s call for the attorney general to be cited for contempt of Congress.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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