Democrats denounce ‘blatant abuse of power’ in Holder contempt vote

Democrats denounce ‘blatant abuse of power’ in Holder contempt vote

House Democrats assailed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Thursday for moving forward with a contempt vote against Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderSessions defends Lynch's use of an email pseudonym: 'I have a pseudonym' Holder: Sessions is ‘racially insensitive’ and ‘racially unaware’ Let's start giving media manipulation the attention it deserves MORE, calling the move “irresponsible, unprecedented and contrary to the rule of law.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, distributed an eight-page memo Thursday detailing the minority’s objections to the contempt vote. The memo was paired with a four-page document that claims to describe the politicization of Issa’s investigation into the failed gun-tracking operation "Fast and Furious."

The move to place Holder in contempt, Cummings said, is an “extreme and blatant abuse of the congressional contempt power that undermines the credibility of the committee.”

Issa, the chairman of the Oversight panel, has scheduled a vote for Wednesday on whether to place Holder in contempt of Congress. He argues the attorney general has not provided the committee with documents that it subpoenaed in October as part of its investigation. 

But Cummings said it would be illegal and unprecedented for Holder to hand over many of the documents that Issa has requested. 

“These dissenting views conclude that the contempt citation, as circulated by the chairman, is irresponsible, unprecedented and contrary to the rule of law,” wrote the panel’s Democratic minority. 

“It would hold the attorney general in contempt not only for complying with statutes passed by Congress that require him to protect documents from disclosure, but also for withholding documents relating to ongoing criminal investigations that have been protected consistently by Democratic and Republican administrations to safeguard the lives of informants and ensure the integrity of active criminal investigations."

Cummings laid out a series of objections to the contempt citation, arguing that federal law prohibits Holder from providing Issa the wiretap applications for Fast and Furious that he has requested. If Holder handed them over, he could face up to five years in prison, according to Cummings. He said placing Holder in contempt for refusing to violate the law is absurd.

He also argued that some of Issa’s requested documents are integral to ongoing investigations and prosecutions, which would be jeopardized if Holder provided the documents to Issa. The Democrat cited Congress’s investigation into the Valeria Plame CIA leaks as an example of the committee deferring to federal prosecutors before moving forward with its own probe.

A spokeswoman for Issa dismissed the Democratic memo, saying it is based on inaccuracies. 

The contempt measure does not focus on the sensitive information referenced by Cummings, the spokeswoman said, but rather on documents and correspondence created after February 2011, when DOJ sent a false letter to Congress denying that it allowed guns to "walk" into the hands of criminals.

"This opinion based memo is based on outdated and inaccurate characterizations of the committee's positions," said Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins. "The committee has clearly articulated that any final contempt resolution would focus on the failure to produce documents from after February 4, 2011, and not on documents created during the criminal investigation."

With the cotempt vote looming, Holder on Thursday offered to personally brief Issa about Fast and Furious and provide more documents. 

“We believe that this briefing, and the documents we are prepared to provide, which will include information you have requested regarding whistleblowers — will fully address the remaining concerns identified in the recent letters to me from you and House Leadership,” Holder wrote to Issa on Thursday.   

“The department’s willingness to provide these materials is a serious, good faith effort to bring this matter to an amicable resolution,” Holder wrote. 

Fast and Furious was an attempt by the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to track the flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico by drug cartels in hopes of dismantling their 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 “gun walking” tactics. Issa has been conducting his own investigation. 

Cummings bashed Issa for not investigating instances of “gun walking” that took place under a different operation in President George W. Bush’s administration, saying that he disregarded “clear evidence that contradicts the political narrative in the contempt citation.”  

“Disregarding these facts and moving ahead with this contempt citation — while at the same time ignoring documented evidence of gun walking operations during the previous administration — exposes the committee’s action as a politically-motivated, election-year witch hunt rather than a legitimate exercise of congressional oversight designed to develop reform measures to combat the flow of illegal weapons,” wrote Cummings. 

He also accused Issa of failing to interview key witnesses while making false charges, such as Issa’s assertion that the FBI tried to cover-up a third weapon found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Based on evidence reports, there never was a third gun found at the scene. A separate piece of evidence was listed first on the report, causing the two weapons that were found to be listed as second and third on the report. At least one of the weapons found at the scene of Terry’s killing was sold under Fast and Furious.

— This story was last updated at 2:45 p.m.