Lawmakers boycott contempt vote on Holder

The House voted 255-67 today to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly stonewalling over documents relating to the probe of the Fast and Furious “gunwalking” operation on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But more than 100 Democrats left the House floor to boycott the vote, including several Bay Area lawmakers: Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“I cannot and will not participate in this hyper-partisan and purely political vote today to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress,” Lee said in a news release.

“Contempt power should be used sparingly, carefully and only in the most egregious situations. The Attorney General has gone above and beyond in his response to request for information on “Fast and Furious”, an unfortunate operation that began under the Bush Administration and, in fact, was terminated by Attorney General Holder,” she said. “This contempt vote is unprecedented, unwarranted and entirely unnecessary. Gandhi once said that ‘Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.’ That is why I am standing with so many of my colleagues in refusing to participate in this shameful Republican political stunt.”

Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa remained on the floor to cast votes against the resolution.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called for the vote with this statement:

John Boehner“It’s important for the American people to know how we got here and to know the facts of this case. The Congress asked the Department of Justice for the facts related to Fast and Furious and the events that led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The Department of Justice did not provide the facts and the information that we requested. Instead, the information came from people outside the Department, people who wanted to do the right thing. In addition to not providing the information, the Administration admitted to misleading Congress, actually retracting a letter it had sent 10 months earlier.

“I think all the Members understand this is a very serious matter. The Terry family wants to know how this happened and they have every right to have their answers. The House needs to know how this happened, and it is our constitutional duty to find out. So the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee issued a lawful and narrowly tailored subpoena. We’ve been patient, giving the Justice Department every opportunity to comply, so that we can get to the bottom of this for the Terry family. We’ve shown more than enough good faith, but the White House has chosen to invoke executive privilege. That leaves us no other options. The only recourse left for the House is to continue seeking the truth and to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress.

“Now I don’t take this matter lightly, and I frankly hoped it would never come to this. The House’s focus is on jobs and on the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold. So I ask the Members of this body to come together and to support this resolution so that we can seek the answers that the Terry family and the American people deserve.”

After the vote, Holder issued a statement which is presented in its entirety after the jump…

Eric Holder“Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided – and politically motivated – investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety. Instead of trying to correct the problems that led to a series of flawed law enforcement operations, and instead of helping us find ways to better protect the brave law enforcement officers, like Agent Brian Terry, who keep us safe – they have led us to this unnecessary and unwarranted outcome.

“During this time, the men and women of the Department of Justice – and I – have remained focused on what should and must be our government’s top priority: protecting the American people.

“When concerns about Operation Fast and Furious first came to light, I took action – and ordered an independent investigation into what happened. We learned that the flawed tactics used in this operation began in the previous administration – but I made sure that they ended under this one. I also made sure that agents and prosecutors around the country knew that such tactics must never be used again. I put in place new policies, new safeguards, and new leadership to make certain of this – and took extraordinary steps to facilitate robust congressional oversight. Let me be very clear – that was my response to Operation Fast and Furious. Any suggestion to the contrary simply ignores the facts.

“I had hoped that Congressional leaders would be good-faith partners in this work. Some have. Others, however, have devoted their time and attention to making reckless charges – unsupported by fact – and to advancing truly absurd conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, these same members of Congress were nowhere to be found when the Justice Department and others invited them to help look for real solutions to the terrible problem of violence on both sides of our Southwest Border. That’s tragic, and it’s irresponsible. The problem of drugs and weapons trafficking across this border is a real and significant public safety threat – and it deserves the attention of every leader in Washington.

“In the face of these and other challenges, the Justice Department has continued to move forward in fulfilling its critical law enforcement responsibilities. Whether it is with regard to prosecuting financial and health care fraud, achieving a record mortgage settlement, taking aggressive action in protecting the most vulnerable among us, or challenging proposed voting changes and redistricting maps that could disenfranchise millions of voters – this Department of Justice has not been afraid to act.

“Some of these enforcement decisions were not politically popular and help to explain the action taken today by the House. As Attorney General, I do not look to do that which is politically expedient – on behalf of the American people whom I am privileged to serve, I seek justice.

“In recent weeks, the Justice Department secured its seventh conviction in the most serious terrorist plot our nation has faced since 9/11. And just two days ago, the Department awarded more than $100 million in grants to save or create law enforcement jobs, including more than 600 jobs for recent veterans.

“This is the kind of work that leaders in Washington should be striving together to advance. At a time when so many Americans are in need of our help, I refuse to be deterred from it. And I will not let election-year politics and gamesmanship stand in the way of continued progress.

“Today’s vote may make for good political theater in the minds of some, but it is – at base – both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people. They expect – and deserve – far better.

“As a result of the action taken today by the House, an unnecessary court conflict will ensue. My efforts to resolve this matter short of such a battle were rebuffed by Congressman Issa and his supporters. It’s clear that they were not interested in bringing an end to this dispute or obtaining the information they claimed to seek. Ultimately, their goal was the vote that – with the help of special interests – they now have engineered.

“Whatever the path that this matter will now follow, it will not distract me or the men and women of the Department of Justice from the important tasks that are our responsibility. A great deal of work for the American people remains to be done – I’m getting back to it. I suggest that those who orchestrated today’s vote do the same.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Who pushed Stark’s wheel chair and pushed the button for him?

  • JAFO

    More than 100 Democratic members left the House floor in protest…and no one missed them. Hopefully, this is a trend.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Babs Lee regularly co-operates with “evil”, or at least misguided, moves in Congress intended to embarrass conservatives. Invoking Gandhi is cooler than pots and kettles.

  • JohnW

    First time in history of the nation that the House has voted contempt against a cabinet member. Not that the contempt vote will ever have any practical effect, but how the hell can a cabinet member be held in contempt for not releasing documents that are subject to a presidential executive order to not release them? If you’re serious, don’t you then have to go to court and get the executive order lifted before you can lawfully hold somebody in contempt for following the order?

    In a very real sense, the party truly responsible for gun deaths in Mexico and the killing of a border patrol agent is whoever has blocked gun trafficking enforcement legislation. That would be our friends at the NRA, who pressured House members to go forward with the contempt proceedings. The blood is on their hands. Their intimidation methods against elected officials are what need investigating.

  • Elwood

    John, Holder placed himself in contempt by withholding documents long before the Ayrab decided to shield them under the pretense of “executive privilege”.

    It gives me the strong impression that Holder and the Ayrab are hiding something.

    Do you have any documentation for what I would call the wild ass assertions in your last graph?

  • JohnW

    Re 5

    The WAA’s are:

    That 80% of the guns used in the violence South of the border come from North of the border.
    That lots of those guns come from 853 licensed gun dealers in the Phoenix area.
    That the Phoenix local market could not possibly support 853 licensed gun dealers without the buyers of guns that travel South.
    That people who repeatedly show up with bags of cash and buy multiple weapons-grade guns without so much as a waiting period probably aren’t headed to the neighborhood target range.
    That the fact that they are able to do that has to do with gun laws that, are to put it mildly, “lax.”
    That those lax laws are the result of political pressure, and that the NRA is the principal agent of that pressure in the United States.
    That reports that the NRA was all over the House members, including Democrats who accepted NRA contributions and endorsements, to make sure they voted the right way on contempt are accurate.
    That anybody who has blocked sensible laws that could have blocked trafficking of guns from the U.S. into Mexico has, in a very real sense, blood on their hands.
    That Bush-era Project Gunrunner and Operation Wide Receiver and Obama-era Fast and Furious don’t even account for a tiny fraction of the guns that have been used to create all the havoc South of the border and that whoever shot the U.S. border agent would have been at the scene and fully armed even if no gun walking operations had ever occurred.

  • Elwood

    @ #6 John W.

    And the evil NRA relates to Holder being in contempt of Congress and the Ayrab covering up for him how?

  • JohnW

    Re: #7

    As reported in a number of newspapers, including our very own Contra Costa Times, the NRA targeted, er, I mean contacted a number of House members and informed them that the contempt vote would be “scored” and reported in the districts. Loosely translated, that is NRA-ese for, “vote the wrong way and we will move heaven and earth to wreck your political career.” In any other line of work, that would be called blackmail. As a result, 17 Dems joined the contempt vote, which I’m sure was nothing more than an expression of conscience on their part . Yes, I know the NRA is hardly the only interest group that engages in such tactics, but nobody has the power they have to deliver a fatal blow to somebody’s re-election prospects.

  • Elwood

    @ #8 John W.

    Thank you very much for the non sequitur.

    In case you missed it the first time, here is the question again:

    “And the evil NRA relates to Holder being in contempt of Congress and the Ayrab covering up for him how?”

  • JohnW

    Maybe you can subpoena my brain waves and hold me in contempt of Elwood for non sequituredness.

    I thought I answered the question of how the NRA relates to Holder being in contempt of Congress. It’s like this. He is in contempt of Congress, because the House voted to make it so. According to news reports, the House voted to make it so due to pressure on leadership from the Raucous Caucus and heavy-handed pressure from the NRA on anybody who was hesitant to vote for the unprecedented action of holding a sitting cabinet member in contempt.

    I gave the second half of your inquiry the dignity it deserves by ignoring it.

  • Elwood

    @ #10 John W.


    That is the most tortured bit of “reasoning” I’ve seen since I read Roberts’ majority opinion. Perhaps the anti-seizure medication HAS damaged his thinking.

  • JohnW

    Re 11

    Haven’t read full opinion yet. Too hard on the eyes to read online, so am printing it in steps. So, far just the summary and Roberts’ 59 page opinion but not the concurring and dissenting. 193 pages total. Maybe Roberts’ seizure medicine gives him insight into what a pre-existing condition means in today’s insurance world.

    I’m puzzled what makes my reasoning tortured, other than the fact that you say it is thus. Let’s walk through it again.

    Leadership wants to embarrass Holder but not take it to the ultimate.
    But Raucous Caucus and NRA insist on pulling the contempt trigger – pun not intended.
    Leadership caves. Schedules vote.
    NRA makes sure any potential holdouts get with the program.
    Bingo! Holder is in contempt by Act of Congress.

    Ergo, there is direct “relates to” connection between NRA and the outcome.

    Others might say the direct “relate to” is Holder not releasing requested documents. Of course, that assumes Issa, Burton, Chaffetz and the like really wanted that outcome and avoiding the contempt confrontation. I suspect they would have been very disappointed had he backed up a U-Haul full of documents to the House loading doc. These guys couldn’t even wait for a report from the ongoing IG investigation and then make a determination as to completeness. That wouldn’t fit with the coverup narrative or the NRA spin about Obama actually wanting the Fast and Furious mess to justify more gun control.

    Please clarify how reasoning is “tortured.”

  • Elwood

    What is really disgusting is DOJ’s absolute refusal to provide a log so that Congress could see what is missing.

    Holder would have been found in contempt by the Republican majority regardless of any lobbying or non-lobbying by the NRA.

    I’m sure there were forces lobbying for “no” votes as well. I’m also sure that Nancy “General Custer” Pelosi rallied her troops to the best of her ability which is becoming more and more limited every day and will probably be non-existent after November.

  • JohnW

    Re: 13

    Well, you may be correct that the House would have had the votes for contempt even without the NRA pressure. After all, we have an election in four months.

    As often occurs with members of first-term presidential cabinets, Holder let it be known before all this got into high gear that he would leave his AG post at the end of Obama’s first term, even if Obama is re-elected. So, with the end of Obama’s first term just a few months away, all these calls for resignation are moot and a bunch of political theater.

    I don’t know that DOJ refused to provide a log as you stated. Please, no links to the right-wing CNS as a source! There were negotiations of some sort up until the last minute. Supposedly, there were offers to permit examination of the documents in question (or some of them) along with explanations of why this or that document wouldn’t be turned over to the committee. I’m still trying to figure out how a matter like this results in 180,000 documents. If I were in government and up to no good, most communications would be face-to-face in a parking garage in Maryland.

    Since neither of us participated in those negotiations, Elwood, I don’t think either of us is in a position to measure good faith or lack thereof on either side. All I know is that, if you’re going to go down that road of holding a sitting cabinet member in contempt for the first time in history, the issues at stake should also rise to historical levels — such as high crimes and misdemeanors on a par with Watergate. That goes double when an IG investigation is underway. The IG need not be the final word but should be given at least some deference before going nuclear.

    There was an ill-advised and bungled but perfectly legal and well-intentioned sting operation. Let’s remember that the people who planned and authorized the operation were trying to track and capture some really horrible people.

    Two guns connected to that operation showed up in the aftermath of a border patrol raid on some armed bandits engaged in attacks on smugglers. That raid resulted in an agent being fatally shot. To connect the sting operation and the deadly raid, you would have to conclude that, if not for Fast and Furious, the bandits would not have been armed and out doing their thing on that day, and that the border patrol raid would not have occurred. I surmise that, with the exception of the two guns found at the scene, the events of that day would have transpired exactly as they did whether or not there had ever been a Fast and Furious. I have not heard anybody say otherwise.

  • Elwood

    @ #14 John W.

    For the record, I learned that DOJ refused to provide the log on that notorious right wing source CBS radio.

    Also, CNS covers the stories that the liberal main stream media either thinks are unimportant or doesn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. Instead of attacking the messenger, why don’t you refute the substance?

    This ceased being about Fast and Furious long ago. First it became a constitutional question concerning equality among the branches of government. Now it’s become something else entirely. Let me tell you a story:

    Once we had a cat that crapped in the bath tub. That was bad enough, but then it dragged the bath mat in on top of it. It wasn’t the crime, so much as it was the cover up.

  • JohnW

    Searched online for any reference to DOJ refusing to provide a log. Not saying it didn’t happen, but I couldn’t find anything. If you come across something in writing (vs. on the radio), let me know. Too bad neither of us knows what was requested and what DOJ agreed to do in compromise.

    We’ll agree to disagree on CNS. From what little I’ve seen, it is, to be polite, agenda-driven.

    You say, “This ceased being about Fast and Furious long ago.” Well, we apparently agree on that point. But we definitely don’t agree on what it IS about.

    You say, “It wasn’t the crime, so much as it was the cover up.” Okaaay! But, to have a coverup, don’t you have to have a crime to cover up about?

  • Elwood

    @ #16 John W.

    “it is, to be polite, agenda-driven.”

    And NYT isn’t?

    “But, to have a coverup, don’t you have to have a crime to cover up about?”

    Due to the obfuscation of Holder, DOJ and the Ayrab, that’s what we don’t know. And that’s why Congress wants ALL the documents, not just whatever the executive branch CHOOSES to provide.