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Feud turning furious

Congress | The House plans a vote next week to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt

WASHINGTON-A long simmering feud between Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration over selling guns to track drug cartels in Mexico may reach a boiling point this month.

A House committee will vote June 20 on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for the Justice Department's unwillingness to hand over to lawmakers numerous documents relating to the Operation Fast and Furious program.

California Republican Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the documents pertain to the claims of whistleblowers and why it took the Justice Department nearly a year to retract false denials of reckless tactics.

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Trying to avoid the contempt vote, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he is prepared to make "compromises with regard to the documents that can be made available."

But at that same hearing, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, publicly called for Holder's resignation.

"Americans deserve an attorney general who will be honest with them," Cornyn told Holder. "They deserve an attorney general who will uphold the basic standards of political independence and accountability. You have proven time and time again, sadly, that you're unwilling to do so."

Holder said on Tuesday he would not resign: "I heard the White House press officer say yesterday that the president has absolute confidence in me. I don't have any reason to believe that in fact is not the case."

Operation Fast and Furious was a bungled program by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives that distributed more than 2,000 guns to a Mexican drug-trafficking network. Agents used taxpayer funds to purchase the semi-automatic weapons and then sold them to at least one cartel. The guns later turned up at numerous violent crime scenes in both Mexico and the United States, including one attack that killed a U.S. border agent.

Congress has been hounding the Justice Department about the operation since last year. The Justice Department initially claimed it was a "botched" operation during which agents had "lost track" of the weapons.

Holder, in testimony given in May 2011, said, "I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks." But several memos released since then "raise significant questions about the truthfulness of the attorney general's testimony," wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in a letter sent to President Barack Obama last fall.

A contempt vote by the full House would likely follow the committee vote unless the Justice Department turns over the requested information.

"Assuming Attorney General Holder continues to stonewall, we will have no choice but to hold him in contempt for his failure to provide the documents necessary to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

The Justice Department called the contempt vote unfortunate and unwarranted.

Issa said his committee has narrowed its request for the documents twice, but that concessions did not lead to a resolution.

"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," Issa wrote in a letter to Holder released Wednesday.

Listen to a report on GOP lawmakers putting pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder on WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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