A House committee has recommended, rightly, that Attorney General Eric Holder be held in contempt for refusing to hand over documents related to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal. The June 20 vote was by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). The vote came hours after Holder cited ‚??executive privilege‚?Ě in not handing over the documents.
A vote by the full House of Representatives is expected Thursday.
The committee‚??s vote was partisan, with all 23 Republicans voting aye, and all 17 Democrats voting no. This shows the continuing blindness of Democrats to the disdain with which their party member, President Barack Obama, and his administration in general have treated the constitutional mandate for congressional oversight of the executive branch.
In Fast and Furious, Holder‚??s Department of Justice induced U.S. gun dealers to sell guns to drug traffickers from Mexico. The traffickers then smuggled the guns across the border. Supposedly, the guns then would allow DOJ to track the activities of drug cartels. But as the Obama administration itself admits, Fast and Furious backfired when the agency lost track of the guns.
An unknown number of people‚??possibly hundreds‚??have been killed by those guns in a country already rife with drug-war murders. One of those killed was U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry, whose family has been insisting that Congress get to the bottom of his murder.
‚??It‚??s a sad day when the attorney general ends up with a contempt citation,‚?Ě John Eastman told us; he‚??s a professor of constitutional law at the Chapman University School of Law. ‚??But given what we know of the situation, it seems to be the appropriate step.‚?Ě
Eastman said that the ‚??compromise‚?Ě he understood was being offered by Holder was risible: Holder would turn over the requested documents‚??but only if Congress dropped its investigation. Yet the only reason to get the documents is to further the investigation.
Holder plays hardball
‚??Holder is playing hardball,‚?Ě Eastman observed. Usually, he said, in situations like this an administration will withhold some documents, such as those involving ‚??tactical matters,‚?Ě but release the majority of the documents, ‚??but that does not appear to be the case in this context.‚?Ě
The reason this matter is so important is because Issa‚??s committee is trying to get behind whether or not Holder knew about what was going on, and when he knew it. The timeline is important. Holder appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 3, 2011 and testified, ‚??I‚??m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.‚?Ě But documents obtained by CBS showed that he actually knew about it in July 2010‚??about 10 months earlier. ‚??The question is about illegal activity and perjury,‚?Ě Eastman said.
If the full House holds Holder in contempt Thursday, then a constitutional crisis could arise. ‚??The House then would refer it to the Department of Justice for prosecution, which probably won‚??t get very far,‚?Ě Eastman said, because Holder himself heads DOJ. But that could ‚??lead to a series of resignations‚?Ě related to the scandal. This is extraordinary.‚?Ě
Alternatively, ‚??The House could go directly to the courts‚?Ě to enforce a contempt citation. ‚??But there it requires implementation by a U.S. marshal, who also is under the supervision of the DOJ.‚?Ě
However, Eastman believes that the matter still will be resolved short of a full constitutional crisis.
Meanwhile, the November election is approaching and President Obama, no doubt, doesn‚??t want this scandal dominating the news cycle. The campaign of his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, already has gone on the attack. Press Secretary Andrea Saul said in a statement, ‚??President Obama‚??s pledge to run the most open and transparent administration in history has turned out to be just another broken promise.‚?Ě
We encourage Rep. Issa and Republicans in Congress to continue pressing their case against Holder. This isn‚??t just about lawyers‚?? briefs; it is about victims in Mexico and the U.S., including Brian Terry.
Last week Human Events attended a speech given by Issa in Newport Beach, Calif. He said Congress has to get to the bottom of ‚??Brian Terry‚??s mother not having a son. At some point, someone has to be held accountable for Brian Terry and hundreds of others dying.‚?Ě