By Ian Swanson
The National Rifle Association (NRA) will score a House panel vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
The NRA has longstanding issues with Holder, something it said was "no secret" in a letter the group wrote to leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announcing its decision.
In a letter to leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is spearheading the investigation, the NRA's chief lobbyist warned that the highly influential firearms advocate will be watching closely as lawmakers cast their votes on contempt.
"This is an issue of the utmost seriousness," Chris Cox wrote, "and the NRA will consider this vote in our future candidate evaluations."
The NRA has been a sharp critic of Holder since he became head of DOJ. The group claims he is "anti-Second Amendment" for efforts like his push to reinstate the assault weapons ban and, more recently, to require border-state gun dealers to report bulk purchases of assault weapons.
But the NRA's support for the contempt vote, Cox said, is independent of past grievances.
"The reason we support the contempt resolution is the same reason we first called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation more than a year ago: the Department’s obstruction of congressional oversight of a program that cost lives in support of an anti-gun agenda," Cox wrote.
The Fast and Furious program has been under the spotlight for more than a year, after it was reported that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) put firearms into the hands of known drug smugglers in order to track them to Mexican cartel leaders.
Hundreds of those firearms have gone missing, and several have been linked indirectly to the murder of border patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed in a December 2010 firefight in Arizona.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight panel, has launched an investigation and demanded reams of documents from Holder, who has declined to reveal certain information.
On Monday, Holder met with Issa, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on Issa’s committee, and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee — in an attempt to reach some agreement. But Issa left the meeting saying he was “disappointed” with the documents Holder had offered, and vowed to stage a Wednesday vote in the committee to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.
Adding a new twist to the saga, just before the hearing got underway Wednesday morning, the White House announced that it would invoke executive privilege to prevent Issa from obtaining the withheld documents. The move sparked a firestorm of criticism from Republicans —already incensed about last week's unilateral move by the administration to forego deportations for young illegal immigrants — that the White House is overstepping its constitutional authority.
“The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions,” Grassley said in a statement. “Is something very big being hidden to go to this extreme?”
The executive action did nothing to dissuade Issa, whose committee will still stage its contempt vote on Wednesday.
This story was updated at 11:09 a.m.