By Justin Sink - 06/28/12 09:20 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the House's vote to hold him in contempt and vowed to stay focused on his work at the Department of Justice.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday shortly after the vote concluded, Holder said Republicans and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, held a "politically motivated" vote.
The Republican-controlled House voted 255-67 to hold the attorney general in contempt, the first time in American history that the head of the Justice Department has faced such a sanction. Seventeen Democrats joined the GOP in voting for the resolution.
Holder dismissed the move as "reckless," and accused Republicans of chasing "truly absurd conspiracy theories" to score political points.
"I had hoped that congressional leaders would be good-faith partners in this work. Some have. Others, however, have devoted their time and attention to making reckless charges — unsupported by fact —and to advancing truly absurd conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, these same members of Congress were nowhere to be found when the Justice Department and others invited them to help look for real solutions to the terrible problem of violence on both sides of our Southwest border. That’s tragic, and it’s irresponsible," Holder said.
Republicans accuse Holder of withholding documents requested during a House investigation into the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking operation.
"I don't take this matter lightly, and I frankly hoped it would never come to this," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on the House floor shortly before the scheduled vote.
"But no Justice Department is above the law, and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold," he said. "So I ask the members of this body to come together and to support this resolution."
The Attorney General went on to argue the Obama administration was responsible for shutting down the program once learning that it had gone wrong.
"We learned that the flawed tactics that led to this operation started in the last administration, but we made sure they stopped in this one," Holder said.
And Holder vowed not to allow the contempt vote distract from his work at the Department of Justice.
“Whatever the path that this matter will now follow, it will not distract me or the men and women of the Department of Justice from the important tasks that are our responsibility," Holder said in a statement. "A great deal of work for the American people remains to be done — I’m getting back to it. I suggest that those who orchestrated today’s vote do the same."
As the vote occurred, Democrats left the chamber in protest of the move. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) walked out of the chamber hand in hand. The walkout was first proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus.
The case will now be referred to the U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, an official within the Department of Justice who works under Holder.