Issa sends out draft contempt order against Holder, says 'Furious' response 'cannot stand'
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has circulated a lengthy pair of documents making the case for holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over his "refusal" to cooperate in an investigation of the ill-fated Fast and Furious operation.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Thursday sent to every member of his committee a 64-page draft contempt order against Holder, as well as a 17-page memo outlining the history of the scandal.
"Operation Fast and Furious' outrageous tactics, the Justice Department's refusal to fully cooperate with the investigation and efforts to smear and retaliate against whistleblowers have tainted the institutional integrity of the Justice Department," Issa wrote.
The committee is not citing Holder or holding the attorney general in contempt at this point. However, the documents lay out the case for contempt should members be called to vote.
The documents specifically charge that Holder's Justice Department has not properly complied with a subpoena sent Oct. 12, 2011, which listed documents requested in 22 categories.
According to the draft contempt order, the department "has yet to provide a single document for 12 out of the 22 categories contained in the subpoena schedule."
The draft order pointed to three categories in particular. Those categories concerned: who among the department's top brass should have known about the "reckless tactics" in Fast and Furious; how department leaders ended up figuring out the program was a bad idea; and how a special task force "failed" to share information that could have supposedly led to key gun-trafficking arrests.
U.S. officials had used the Fast and Furious program to allow firearms to "walk" across the U.S.-Mexico border as part of an anti-gunrunning probe. However, they lost track of many of those weapons, which later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border -- including the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Issa noted that "only 567 of the nearly 2,000 weapons from the operation have been recovered."
In response to the documents released Thursday, Issa's Democratic counterpart on the oversight committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., accused the Republican congressman of trying to "generate press for political purposes."
"Holding someone in contempt is one of the most serious actions Congress can take, but it is being used in this case as part of a partisan election year witch-hunt," Cummings said in a statement.
It's unclear when Issa might press for action on the documents, but a source close to the investigation told Fox News he would not have put his cards on the table unless he had sufficient votes to push a contempt citation out of committee as well as the consent of House Speaker John Boehner.
A Republican source separately told Fox News that Boehner and House Republican Leader Eric Cantor do not want to deal with a contempt citation against Holder because "it's off message for them." But they apparently told Issa he needs to issue a "report" before they would even consider it -- which may account for the documents circulated on Thursday.
Since 1975, only one attorney general has been found in contempt -- Janet Reno, voted to be held in contempt by the same committee Issa now controls.
The summary of the draft contempt resolution regarding Holder states that the Justice Department "has refused to comply with congressional subpoenas related to operation Fast and Furious."
This refusal, the draft states, "is inexcusable and cannot stand."
The Justice Department has denied claims of being uncooperative with the congressional investigation, noting that Holder has testified more than a half-dozen times on the subject and that the department has provided a number of officials for congressional hearings and briefings. The department has also furnished more than 7,600 pages of documents.
An April 19 response from the department to Issa included another 188 pages of documents in response to the October 2011 subpoena.
"We intend to continue our rolling production schedule until we have accommodated the Committee's information needs to the fullest extent possible," Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote.