Commentary Magazine


Topic: contempt of Congress

Holder Found in Contempt of Congress

As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

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As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

The criminal charge isn’t the only avenue the House GOP is pursuing. They may be able to get some results through civil action, CNN reports:

House Republicans are well aware of this recent history, which helps explain the separate measure authorizing a civil action. That resolution, according to a GOP spokesman, would allow the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to file a lawsuit asking the courts to examine the Justice Department’s failure to produce certain subpoenaed documents, as well as the validity of the administration’s assertion of executive privilege.

Even then, it will take awhile before Republicans get any documents they may be owed — likely too long to matter in the upcoming election. But that doesn’t mean the White House is off the hook. Politically, this looks terrible. To have an attorney general held in contempt for withholding documents related to the murder of a border patrol officer is bad enough. To have a president who is seen as actively protecting this attorney general is much worse, particularly in an administration that already has a history of eschewing independent investigations.

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Congressional Black Caucus Plans Walk Out on Holder Vote

Democrats are trying their best to turn the Eric Holder contempt vote into a racial issue, and Politico reports that the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a walk out protest during the floor vote today:

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to walk off the House floor during tomorrow’s votes to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress, according to a letter being circulated among members of Congress.

“We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an attorney general who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people. We must reflect upon why we are elected to this body and choose now to stand up for justice,” the CBC members wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by Politico….

“Instead of focusing on job creation and other critical issues before this Congress, we have been asked to engage in a political stunt on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Our constituents elected us to do real work, not to engage in meaningless partisan activity,” they wrote.

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Democrats are trying their best to turn the Eric Holder contempt vote into a racial issue, and Politico reports that the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a walk out protest during the floor vote today:

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to walk off the House floor during tomorrow’s votes to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress, according to a letter being circulated among members of Congress.

“We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an attorney general who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people. We must reflect upon why we are elected to this body and choose now to stand up for justice,” the CBC members wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by Politico….

“Instead of focusing on job creation and other critical issues before this Congress, we have been asked to engage in a political stunt on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Our constituents elected us to do real work, not to engage in meaningless partisan activity,” they wrote.

The CBC, of course, would never engage in these sort of “political stunts” and “meaningless partisan activities.” Speaking of which, how many Republicans do you think will be at the CBC’s meaningful bipartisan press conference condemning the Eric Holder contempt vote? I’m going to go with “zero.” When even Sen. Scott “Independent Voice of Massachusetts” Brown is calling for Holder’s resignation, it seems safe to assume the GOP is sticking together on this one.

In fact, the only real bipartisanship we’re likely to see today will be on the side supporting the contempt vote. Fox News reports that at least 11 House Democrats are expected to break rank and join the GOP on this one, but others have speculated that number could be as high as 31.

It’s also interesting that House Democrats are suddenly complaining about “sideshows” after wasting months on the “war on women” nonsense. Criticizing House Republicans for focusing on political stunts isn’t likely to sway public opinion, particularly as the Fast and Furious investigation has bipartisan support, and Holder isn’t exactly a sympathetic party in this conflict.

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Boehner: “Justice Dept is Out of Excuses”

House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

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House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

Issa also told BuzzFeed that he’s given up hope the vote will pressure Holder into turning over the requested documents, and he’s now shifting the burden to President Obama:

Issa said under normal circumstances he’d expect the vote to pressure Holder to turn over the documents, but that now he’s hoping the president intercedes on Congress’ behalf.

“After Thursday’s hearing with the attorney general, no, I don’t expect it, but I would hope that the president would second-guess the man that he says he has full faith and confidence in, and tell him that it’s time to deliver reasonable documents,” Issa said.

The vote will certainly increase the pressure on both the attorney general and the White House, if only because it will incite more media scrutiny and negative press. Contempt votes are extremely rare, and only four officials –  EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, Attorney General Janet Reno, White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff John Bolton — have been found in contempt of Congress since 1983.

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