Rep. Issa ‘disappointed,’ says contempt vote against Holder will move forward

A House panel is expected to vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress after a last-ditch effort to reach a deal over documents related to Operation Fast and Furious appeared to fail.

After a Tuesday evening meeting with Holder and other lawmakers in the Capitol, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he was “disappointed” that the attorney general had not come with the documents demanded by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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Issa, Holder’s chief interlocutor in a saga that has lasted more than a year, said unless Holder provides the paperwork, the contempt vote would proceed Wednesday morning.

Issa also called on President Obama to press Holder “to be more cooperative.”

Holder emerged from the meeting considerably later, and accused Issa of being consumed with “political gamesmanship.”

Holder said he offered to make documents Issa has requested available to the chairman on the condition that the powerful Republican drop the two outstanding subpoenas he has issued to the department. The documents Issa wants are related to the panel’s 16-month investigation of the failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

Holder said Issa rejected that offer and demanded that Holder fork over the documents to his committee, while offering no assurances that he would drop the contempt vote scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday or consider the subpoenas satisfied.

“I think the ball’s in their court,” said Holder. “They rejected what I thought was an extraordinary offer on our part.

“What we asked from the chairman was an indication that if we provided these materials, that would be considered to resolve the subpoenas that were standing,” Holder said. “He’s not indicated the desire to do that at this point. I hope he will change his mind.”

Asked whether he had spoken to any of the House Republican leaders about ways to resolve the matter, the attorney general declined to comment.

“I don’t want to answer that question,” he said.

Issa said he hoped Holder would deliver the documents later Tuesday night, but that until he received them he would plan to move forward with the contempt vote.

“If we receive no documents, we’ll go forward,” said Issa. “If we receive documents, we’ll evaluate them and we’ll take such time as is necessary in delay to be sure of the quality of these documents and whether they’re sufficient.

“We never expected to get all of the documents. But our hope was, and still is, that later this evening we’ll receive such documents that’ll allow us to say that at least for the time being we’re evaluating future documents.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on Issa’s committee, and Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Democrat and Republican, respectively, on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also attended the meeting

Cummings said he believed Issa’s mind was made up about the contempt vote before the meeting.

“It appears that the chairman made up his mind even before we stepped into the room,” he said following the meeting, which lasted roughly 30 minutes.

Grassley, however, praised Issa for moving forward with the contempt vote and called Holder’s offer unacceptable.

“The attorney general wants to trade a briefing and the promise of delivering some small, unspecified set of documents tomorrow for a free pass today,” said Grassley in a statement after the meeting. “That’s unacceptable. I’m not going to buy a pig in a poke.”

Issa wants documents that he says would show how much Justice knows about Fast and Furious. Holder has insisted he did not know of the gun-tracking operation, and he has noted that a similar operation was executed under the Bush administration.

Issa has focused his request on DOJ documents from after Feb. 4, 2011, when the department sent a letter to Grassley denying that it lets guns “walk” across the border into Mexico. Issa wants as much internal correspondence as possible that could give him a clear picture of how much the department knew about those tactics and what made the DOJ withdraw that letter in December.

Fast and Furious was an attempt by the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to track the flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico in hopes of dismantling drug cartels’ network.

Nearly 2,000 guns were sold in the United States to straw buyers for the cartels, but instead of tracking the weapons, ATF agents were ordered to let them go with the hope of rediscovering them later at a crime scene or drug bust.

The Department of Justice's inspector general, at the request of Holder, has been investigating Fast and Furious for more than a year and is searching for who is responsible for the controversial tactics. Issa has been conducting his own investigation.

This story was updated at 7:35 p.m.