For the first time ever, the House of Representatives voted Thursday on whether to hold a sitting attorney general in contempt of Congress. Republicans brought the vote to the House floor in an effort to force Attorney General Eric Holder to finally face the music for his willful failure to fully comply with a Congressional subpoena of documents relating to Operation Fast & Furious, the not-botched gunwalking scandal that resulted in the death of a U.S. border patrol agent and countless Mexicans — and face the music Holder did. The House voted 255-67 to hold Eric Holder in contempt.
During the pre-vote debate, Minority Leader Pelosi accused the Republicans of playing “heinous,” “frivolous” political games, and even encouraged the members of her party to walk out on the vote: “I’m very moved by the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who say they are going to walk out on this,” she said on the House floor. “Walk out on this. Perhaps that’s the best way. …I urge my colleagues to vote ‘no’ or not vote.” Her oh-so-rousing call to protest, however, didn’t inspire quite the solidarity she was probably looking for: Over 100 Democrats didn’t vote, but at least 17 Democrats defected and joined Republicans in the contempt charge.
Update: Yep, looks like 110 members decided not to vote — the CBC explained their reasoning for walking out earlier:
“Contempt power should be used sparingly, carefully and only in the most egregious situations,” said a letter from the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus to colleagues. “The Republican leadership has articulated no legislative purpose for pursuing this course of action. For these reasons, we cannot and will not participate in a vote to hold the attorney general in contempt.”
Regardless, after 18 months of investigating and subsequent stonewalling, this is officially moving forward. Technically, when you’re found in criminal contempt, you’re subject to a hefty fine or even arrest, and your case would go to a DC district court via the Justice Department — but the obvious problem here is that Holder is the head of the DOJ. The House is now getting set to vote on whether to hold Holder in civil contempt, so the Oversight Committee can hire their own lawyers to file a civil lawsuit to prosecute the attorney general. Another update to follow…
Update: Heh. If you missed the House floor debate, BuzzFeed has a nice round-up of the gist of it — good times, good times.
Update: Ughh, of course. Here’s part of the White House‘s all-too-foreseeable response to the contempt vote:
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico has been is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.
Yet, Republicans pushed for political theater rather than legitimate Congressional oversight. Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead. But unfortunately, a politically-motivated agenda prevailed and instead of engaging with the President in efforts to create jobs and grow the economy, today we saw the House of Representatives perform a transparently political stunt.
Update: The aye’s have it — the House just followed up on their criminal contempt vote with an affirmative civil contempt vote, which will allow them to hire their own counsel to challenge President Obama’s invocation of executive privilege. Which, as Rep. Trey Gowdy explained in a video this morning, they’re ready and rarin’ to do:
Update: And here’s Attorney General Eric Holder’s response soon after learning that he is now in contempt of Congress. The vote was “reckless,” “politically motivated,” rabble rabble rabble: