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Today the House of Representatives will decide whether or not to find Attorney General Eric holder in contempt of Congress for his refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents in the gunrunning scandal known as Fast and Furious. A pair of eleventh-hour meetings between White House officials and Republicans at the Justice Department (DOJ) and the White House attempting to avert the showdown were not fruitful. The DOJ showed GOP staffers 14 documents a senior administration official characterized as a “representative sample” of what Republican had been seeking. At one of the meetings, DOJ officials reportedly offered to provide all the documents requested if Republicans would drop contempt proceedings. That offer was rejected.
“The documents that were shown today did not shed any meaningful new light on the questions and interactions that took place at the Justice Department,” a Republican official told the Associated Press. White House spokesman Eric Schultz contended otherwise. “This was a good faith effort to resolve this while still protecting the institutional prerogatives of the Executive Branch, often championed by these same Republicans criticizing us right now,” he said. “Unfortunately Republicans have opted for political theater rather than conduct legitimate Congressional oversight.” White House spokesman Jay Carney echoed that sentiment, contending the public would view the vote as “political theater” and “gamesmanship,” and that the administration’s offer would have provided “unprecedented access” to the relevant documents.
Yet even as the White House and its media surrogates attempted to paint today’s vote as a completely partisan one, Wednesday morning revealed a different picture. At least four Democrats said they planned to break ranks with their party and support a contempt citation against Mr. Holder. The four are more conservative-leaning members of their party who are facing tight races in their respective districts. Yet they may only be the beginning of a far larger defection. Sources told Fox News that approximately 20 Democrats are likely to break ranks with president Obama, due in large part to his claim of executive privilege over the withheld documents.
Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) explained his reasoning. “While Republicans and Democrats argue over the scope of the people’s right to know what happened, the attorney general has decided to withhold relevant documents,” he said. “The only way to get to the bottom of what happened is for the Department of Justice to turn over the remaining documents, so that we can work together to ensure this tragedy never happens again.” Jim Matheson (D-UT) was equally forthright. “Sadly, it seems that it will take holding the attorney general in contempt to communicate that evasiveness is unacceptable. It is a vote I will support.” Mr. Matheson further contended that Congress, the public and parents of slain Border Agent Brian Terry “deserve answers.” Reps. Nick Rahall (D-WVA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) joined Mr. Barrow and Mr. Matheson in announcing their intention to vote for contempt.
Two factors may have influenced defecting Democrats. On Tuesday, Darrell Issa (D-CA) chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee leading the investigation into Fast and Furious, upped the political ante even further, sending a seven-page letter to president Obama. “Either you or your most senior advisers were involved in managing Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it, including the false Feb. 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee,” Issa wrote. “Or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz’s defense of Mr. Obama’s actions sounded less than convincing. “The courts have routinely considered deliberative process privilege claims and affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved.” That is true, but Fast and Furious was an operation responsible for the death of Agent Terry, hundreds of Mexican civilians, and quite likely Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata as well. Perhaps the stonewalling of critical evidence in an operation that produced hundreds of murders trumps partisan politics for some Democrats.
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