Eric Holder is charged with contempt — what’s next?
The sit down meeting between Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Attorney General Eric Holder over the withholding of documents pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious ended in failure on Tuesday, June 19.
Holder didn’t release any new documents and Issa has decided to go ahead with a House Oversight Committee hearing to decide if Holder should be held in contempt.
Holder said he gave Issa an “extraordinary offer” in a briefing just after the two met Tuesday evening.
President Barack Obama’s Justice Department has been under investigation since 2010, when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BAFTE) agent Brian Terry was killed ten miles north of the Mexican-American border by men carrying guns linked to Operation Fast and Furious.
Thousands of guns were allowed to cross or “walk” across the Mexican border as part of a large operation that was either badly mismanaged or worse according to many Republicans in Congress.
When Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) became the first Republican in Congress to call for Holder to resign he said, “I first learned about Fast and Furious early this year from several of my constituents. I then asked Chairman Issa to hold hearings on the topic. As I attended the hearings and reviewed the evidence, I was careful to not jump to any conclusions about the extent of Mr. Holder’s involvement. However, the recently published documents that directly link Mr. Holder to Fast and Furious have convinced me that he is either lying or grossly incompetent.”
Holder will now face a charge of contempt on Wednesday in a House Oversight committee hearing, which Issa chairs. Republicans dominate the House Oversight committee, so the contempt charge is most likely to pass.
The next step for Holder’s contempt charge will be whether or not it is brought up on the floor of the House. Republican House leadership has been relatively quiet on the Fast and Furious scandal to avoid controversy, but there will now be intense pressure to bring Holder’s contempt charge up for a vote.
“All options are on the table with regard to what may need to be done to hold the Department of Justice accountable,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said June 7.
Boehner also said that Holder and the Justice Department were out of excuses and that they should immediately hand over all documents pertaining to Fast and Furious. So far only about 7,600 of the tens of thousands of documents have been released and the Justice Department has been accused of stonewalling investigators through every step of the process.
If Holder is found in contempt, then the House could refer the contempt charge to the U.S. District Attorney of the District of Columbia, Ronald Machen Jr.
Referring Holder’s contempt charge to Machen could raise serious concerns, as Machen is both a part of the Justice Department under Holder and was a longtime backer of President Barack Obama. Machen was an early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign and donated over $5,000 to Obama directly or indirectly before being appointed by the administration in 2009.
Machen also happens to be one of two prosecutors that have been appointed to head a probe into recent leaks of classified information from the White House.
If the House fails to hold Holder in contempt, then there is another option for Republicans looking to punish the Attorney General.
If Holder is not held in contempt he could potentially be censured. A censure is essentially a Congressional slap on the wrist that has no real legal ramifications, but will still be damaging to Holder, the Justice Department and the Obama administration.
A hostile Senate censured President Andrew Jackson during his effort to destroy the Second National Bank. The censure was a major blow to Jackson and he protested it vehemently because it was such a political embarrassment for the administration. Jackson’s censure was eventually stricken from the record by his allies in the Senate in 1837.
Fittingly enough, Attorney General Augustus Hill Garland, who served under President Grover Cleveland, was the only executive cabinet member to be censured by the Senate. Garland was censured because he would not turn over documents that pertained to an appointment in the Department of Justice.
The censure does little to remove a public official from office but it can tarnish their reputation and bring increasing scrutiny. Holder will have a difficult time wielding power and being a spokesperson for the Obama administration if he has a censure on his record.