By Jordy Yager - 05/03/12 02:45 PM EDT
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has circulated a draft copy of a resolution that would hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
The 44-page measure was sent to members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday in an attempt to shore up support for what would be the toughest action taken by Issa as chairman of the powerful panel.
Issa has issued two subpoenas to obtain documents from the DOJ, and is arguing that the agency’s glacial pace in returning the requested information provides cause for holding Holder in contempt of Congress.
“The Justice Department’s failure to respond appropriately to the allegations of whistleblowers and to cooperate with congressional oversight has crossed the line of appropriate conduct for a government agency,” reads a 17-page memo attached to the draft copy of the resolution on contempt circulated to members.
“Congress now faces a moment of decision between exerting its full authority to compel an agency refusing to cooperate with congressional oversight or accepting a dangerous expansion of executive-branch authority and unilateral action allowing agencies to set their own terms for cooperating with congressional oversight.”
Issa says he has received about 7,300 documents from the DOJ. That’s only a small fraction of the documents that Justice has provided to its inspector general, who has been conducting an investigation of Fast and Furious for more than a year.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) recently said the oversight committee has received documents in only 10 of the 22 categories that Issa requested in last year’s subpoena.
The DOJ has said it has been responsive to Issa’s large request for documents. In some cases, the agency opted not to turn over documents because their public release could damage ongoing criminal cases, according to agency officials.
The draft copy of the contempt resolution justifies the need for the documents by citing the panel’s congressional authority to carry out oversight of the federal government.
Specifically, Issa argues that the committee is considering whether to restructure the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which oversaw the botched gun tracking operation that authorized the sale of nearly 2,000 firearms in the Southwest to numerous straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels.
“The Committee’s investigation has called into question the ability of ATF to carry out its statutory mission and the ability of the Department of Justice to adequately supervise it. The information sought is needed to consider legislative remedies to restructure ATF as needed.”
Issa also lays out the committee’s case for revamping the statutory provisions that cover the application and approval process for federal wiretaps.
“The major breakdown in the process that occurred with respect to the Fast and Furious wiretap applications necessitates careful examination of the facts before proposing a legislative remedy. Procedural improvements may need to be codified in statute to mandate immediate action in the face of highly objectionable information relating to operational tactics and details contained in future applications.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, initiated Congress’ investigation into Fast and Furious last year after ATF whistleblowers came forward with details of the flawed operation. He said the DOJ and Holder are “thumbing their nose at the constitutional authority provided to the legislative branch to conduct oversight."
If Holder continues to refuse to hand over the subpoenaed documents, a hot-blooded governmental battle could ensue, Grassley said.
“The Attorney General is facing a real test of leadership here,” Grassley said in a statement following the release of the contempt citation. “He has a choice to make. He can force the department to come clean, or he can force a high-stakes political conflict between the legislative and executive branches.”
If Issa decides to move forward with the contempt proceedings, the next step would be a vote on his committee. After approval from the panel, the resolution would be reported to the House floor, where Republican leaders would decide whether to vote on it.
If the resolution passes the House, there are several options Republicans can take to enforce it. Among them, the House sergeant at arms can be instructed to arrest Holder if he refuses to hand over the documents. The attorney general could also face up to a year in jail.
— This story was last updated at 1:27 p.m.