Issa to Holder: Give me 'serious proposal' and I'll drop contempt vote

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) signaled Wednesday that he would postpone a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress if he gets a "serious proposal" on how to resolve the conflict surrounding the Fast and Furious probe.

"Let me be clear — if the Department of Justice submits a serious proposal for how it intends to alter its refusal to produce critical documents subpoenaed by the Committee, I am ready and willing to meet to discuss your proposal,” wrote Issa in letter to Holder on Wednesday.

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Issa and Holder have been arguing for months about whether the Justice Department will grant the powerful Republican’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee access to internal DOJ communications and documents used in investigations surrounding the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

Issa’s announcement this week that he plans to hold a vote next Wednesday on whether to place Holder in contempt of Congress for his refusal to comply with a subpoena raised the stakes significantly.

And in what has become a political game of “chicken,” both Holder and Issa have repeatedly pledged their willingness to meet with one another to discuss how a mutually agreeable resolution can be reached.

But for all of the rhetoric about wanting to meet, and avoid the contempt vote if possible, a meeting between Holder and Issa has not actually occurred since Monday’s announcement.

Holder, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — who launched Congress’s investigation into Fast and Furious — that he was eager to meet with the Iowa Republican, Issa, or House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to reach a resolution.

“I want to make it very clear that I myself am offering to sit down with the Speaker, with the chairman, with you, whoever, to try to work our way through this in an attempt to avoid a constitutional crisis and come up with ways — creative ways, perhaps — in which we can make this material available,” Holder said.

“But I’ve got to have a willing partner. I have extended my hand, and I’m waiting to hear back.”

Holder made similar comments on last Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, offering to meet with Boehner, Issa, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

And last Monday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote to House Republican leaders extending the same offer.

But on Wednesday, Issa outlined the detailed grounds on which a peace between the two warring factions could be brokered, stressing his desire to avoid a contempt vote: “If the department is prepared to engage in discussions based upon a stated willingness to drop its opposition to providing material from after February 4, 2011, that may reflect internal deliberations, I ask that you indicate such intention,” wrote Issa to Holder. 

“If the department has another proposal for altering its objections to providing subpoenaed materials, I ask that you promptly submit that proposal for consideration as a basis for productive discussions.”

“Again, I appreciate your effort to resolve this dispute,” continued Issa. “I believe the interests of the department, Congress, and those directly affected by reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious are best served by an agreement that renders the process of contempt unnecessary.”

Issa’s remarks on Wednesday were more detailed than previous comments, but echoed a similar sentiment he conveyed earlier in the week.

“If the attorney general decides to produce these subpoenaed documents, I am confident we can reach agreement on other materials and render the process of contempt unnecessary,” Issa said on Monday.

The focus of Issa’s request revolves around the central date of February 4, 2011, when the DOJ sent Grassley a letter denying that it ever allowed guns to “walk” into the hands of criminals.

Nine months later, after dozens of interviews with the DOJ and officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which oversaw Fast and Furious, the DOJ revoked its letter to Grassley because it was not true.

In a rare move, Holder granted Issa’s committee access to internal DOJ emails to show lawmakers that department officials had not intentionally lied to Congress in the letter.

In Wednesday's letter to Holder, Issa said he wants documents, correspondence, and information about instances within the DOJ about why it took nine months to rescind its letter to Grassley.

Issa also said he’s looking for information about the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke’s leaking of information to the press in an attempt to discredit a whistleblower on the Fast and Furious case, as well as allegations raised by former acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson that the DOJ was trying to shield its political appointees from taking any of the blame for the failed operation.

— This story was updated at 2:47 p.m.

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