GOP leaders join Issa in pressuring Holder on Fast and Furious

House Republican leaders on Friday joined Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in pressuring Attorney General Eric Holder to turn over documents to congressional investigators in the Fast and Furious case.

Following a 15-month investigation House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) demanded that Holder comply with a 7-month old subpoena or face the consequences.

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“As co-equal branches of the U.S. Government, the relationship between the Legislative and Executive branches must be predicated on honest communications and cannot be clouded by allegations of obstruction,” stated the Republican leaders in a letter to Holder sent on Friday.

“If necessary, the House will act to fulfill our Constitutional obligations in the coming weeks.”

Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has drafted a resolution that would place Holder in contempt of Congress for not responding to Issa's October 2011 subpoena for internal Justice Department (DOJ) documents.

It is the first time GOP leaders have made a move of solidarity on the issue.

Republican leadership was wary to step out in front on it last year, and has expressed their reluctance to charge ahead with the contempt measure until they feel all other existing routes of communication and diplomacy have been exhausted.

Earlier this week, during a meeting with President Obama and other top congressional leaders, Boehner asked the president “to encourage the Attorney General to provide the information Congressional investigators have sought about the Fast and Furious operation,” according to the Speaker’s office.

Tea Party groups in the respective districts of the top three Republican leaders began voicing their outrage at the lawmakers earlier this year for not being more outspoken about the issue, which has been a centerpiece to Issa’s chairmanship atop the powerful Oversight panel.

In response to the criticism in March, Republican leadership said they have always supported Issa’s investigation and were gravely concerned about Holder’s reluctance to hand over documents to the committee.

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With less than six months left before elections, the issue could prove to be a key talking point for Republicans in their argument that the Obama administration has not been as open and transparent as it promised.

Since early last year, Issa has been investigating the botched gun tracking operation Fast and Furious, which oversaw the sale of nearly 2,000 firearms to straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels in a failed attempt to dismantle their gun trafficking routes.

But after 15 months, Issa and GOP leadership say that the DOJ has stopped complying with his efforts to get more information about who in the agency knew about and approved the controversial tactics, which may have contributed to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

“Two key questions remain unanswered: who on your leadership team was informed of the reckless tactics used in Fast & Furious prior to Agent Terry's murder; and, second, did your leadership team mislead or misinform Congress in response to a Congressional subpoena?” wrote the Republicans on Friday.

Holder has said he did not know about the tactics involved in the operation, which was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). But last year the top two officials at ATF were reassigned and the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, who orchestrated the operation's legal side, stepped down.

The DOJ's inspector general has also spent more than a year completing its own investigation.

In their letter on Friday, House leaders outlined the case against Holder by calling attention to the Justice Department’s wiretap approval process.

They said the DOJ should have reviewed the controversial gun walking tactics as it moved to approve the 2010 wiretap application submitted during the operation, which was long before DOJ officials have said they first learned about the tactics.

“The assertion that your leadership team could approve wiretaps in 2010 and yet not have any knowledge of the tactics used in Fast & Furious until 2011 simply cannot be accurate and furthers the perception that the Department is not being forthright with Congress,” the GOP letter states.

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The DOJ has argued against revealing some of the documents to Issa, saying that they could jeopardize ongoing criminal prosecutions and cases if they were released publicly.

The House Republican leaders rejected that claim in their letter on Friday.

“Finally, as these post-February 4, 2011, communications concern the Department's response to Congress, their disclosure to Congress would not impact any ongoing criminal investigations or prosecutions.”

Congressional Democrats have tried to frame the Fast and Furious issue as a broader problem that resulted from lax firearms statutes. The controversial gun walking tactics first began at the ATF under President George W. Bush and Democrats have used the operation to push for stricter gun trafficking and purchasing laws.

Last year the DOJ moved to require gun dealers in the Southwest to report multiple sales of long guns, but Republicans defunded the initiative.

— This story was updated at 1:53 p.m.