The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress - an unprecedented event amid potential election-year consequences.
At the end of a momentous day in Washington that started with a historic Supreme Court upholding the Obama administration's health care reform law, the House voted to hold the nation's top law enforcement official in contempt of the country's legislative branch of government.
The dispute is over documents that Holder has refused to turn over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is controlled by Republicans led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. The committee has been trying to obtain documents related to the so-called "Operation Fast and Furious" program run by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The program ran amok because agents lost control of weapons that ended up going to Mexican drug cartels. At least one of those weapons ended up at the scene of the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry.
Thursday's vote was 255-67 in the House. Seventeen Democrats joined Republicans on the vote. But many others walked off of the House floor in protest, decrying what they described as election year politics.
The vote was indeed largely symbolic, because the case now goes to the D.C. district attorney, Ronald Machen, who is not only an Obama appointee but also an employee of the Justice Department.
Voting strictly along party lines, the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has approved the citation against Holder, which came just hours after the Obama administration claimed executive privilege over documents sought by the committee, effectively shielding them from public view.
The citation is the first-ever for a U.S. attorney general, although other executive branch officials have been cited for contempt of Congress - most recently in 2008, when Bush administration officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten were cited.
House Republicans subpoenaed the Justice Department for documents related to the program. Holder refused to turn them over, citing ongoing investigations that prevented him from releasing them to the committee.
But Democrats say the issue is all about politics. In one of the strongest criticisms, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said Republicans were putting party ahead of country.
"This is just all part of a continuing plan, and whether it's suppressing the vote or suppressing the economy -- this obstructionist regime that we see that continues to block because they think they would rather see President Obama fail than the nation succeed," Larson said.
by RTT Staff Writer
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