Ahead of Contempt Vote, Obama has ‘Absolute Confidence’ in Holder, Says White House

Fred Lucas | June 11, 2012 | 5:35pm EDT
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Attorney General Eric Holder being sworn in before he testifies in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/J.Scott Applewhite)

(CNSNews.com) – A White House spokesman says President Barack Obama has “absolute confidence” in embattled Attorney General Eric Holder, who faces a contempt of Congress vote next week in the House for failing to produce some 100,000 documents in the Fast and Furious gun-running investigation.

“I think I addressed the contempt issue -- the substantial level of cooperation, the numerous hearings, the thousands of pages of documents, the number of times the Attorney General himself has appeared on Capitol Hill, including four hours last week,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday.

“And I cited a member -- Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee, who described this as politics. So don’t take my word for it, take his word for it, in terms of what’s behind this. The president has absolute confidence in the attorney general.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform committee, which has been investigating Operation Fast and Furious, plans to vote June 20 on whether to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to provide more than 100,000 subpoenaed documents pertaining to a botched gun-sting investigation.

As part of Fast and Furious, a Justice Department program that began in September 2009, law enforcement knowingly allowed about 2,000 U.S. guns to flow to Mexican drug cartels, with the intent of tracking the weapons and making arrests. However, law enforcement lost track of most of the weapons. The program was halted in December 2010 after two weapons from the program were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the House said they hope to avert a contempt of Congress charge against Holder:

“If the Attorney General decides to produce these subpoenaed documents, I am confident we can reach agreement on other materials and render the process of contempt unnecessary,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement Monday.

The ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said something similar:

“It is unfortunate that the committee scheduled a contempt vote against the attorney general when federal law prohibits him from turning over many of the subpoenaed documents, but I am guardedly optimistic that a path forward exists that will serve the legitimate interests of the Committee in conducting rigorous oversight, protect the legitimate interests of the (Justice) Department in its ongoing investigations and prosecutions, and avoid the needless politicization of this very serious issue,” Cummings said in a statement.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Congress is losing patience with Holder:

“The Justice Department is out of excuses. Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner said in a statement Monday. “Agent Terry’s family, the whistleblowers who brought this issue to light and the American people deserve answers. Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the Attorney General in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who first called public attention to the scandal after whistleblowers contacted him, called the possible contempt charge “straightforward and necessary.”

“Contempt is the only tool Congress has to enforce a subpoena,” Grassley said in a statement. “The Department of Justice can avoid the action by complying with its legal obligation. It’s not about personalities.  It’s a procedural mechanism in our system of checks and balances. If Congress is afraid to pursue answers to questions, it’s not doing its job. People deserve transparency from their government. Transparency leads to the truth about what’s going on. It puts people in a position to defend their rights. It protects our freedoms.”

Grassley, the ranking Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called a contempt charge the “only constitutionally viable” solution to the Justice Department’s not handing over subpoenaed documents.

“The President hasn’t asserted that privilege, presumably because the vast majority of the documents at issue aren’t related to communications with the White House,” Grassley said. “Because the documents don't fit the category of executive privilege, the department is obligated to turn over the documents.”

The House committee has obtained six applications for wiretaps as part of the Fast and Furious program, indicating that senior Justice Department officials had detailed knowledge of it.

The contempt charge would pertain to documents since Feb. 4, 2011, when the Justice Department first denied the gun-running ever occurred. The documents would pertain to the treatment of whistleblowers and why it took the department almost a year to retract its denial.

A contempt charge does not place blame on an individual for what happened in Operation Fast and Furious, the House committee press release said. The Justice Department contends it provided the oversight committee with 7,600 pages of documents. But the committee said that’s just a small portion of the more than 100,000 pages subpoenaed.

After the Justice Department first denied that Fast and Furious allowed guns to flow into Mexico in the Feb. 4, 2011 letter to Congress, a following letter, dated Dec. 2, 2011, formally reversed the denial.

The committee says the DOJ has been hiding the identity of officials who led the charge to retaliate against whistleblowers; the reactions of top officials when confronted with evidence about gunwalking; the Justice Department’s assessment of responsibility for officials who knew about the operation; and whether senior officials and political appointees at fault in Operation Fast and Furious were held to the same standards as lower level career employees whom the Department has primarily blamed.

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