By a 255-67 bipartisan vote the U.S. House passed a resolution holding U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for not releasing documents related to a gun running operation that resulted in the death of a border patrol agent.
The House Oversight Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Darrell Issa, is seeking documents related to the “Fast and Furious” program in which guns sold in Mexico border areas were tracked in hopes of tracing them to leaders of drug rings across the border in Mexico. Guns in the program were later used in a number of crimes, including the murder of the border patrol agent.
After contentious debate, lawmakers proceeded with the vote, the first in American history to hold a sitting cabinet member in contempt of Congress. Dozens of Democrats protested by walking out of the chamber, but 17 of their colleagues joined 238 Republicans in holding Holder in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee. Two Republicans voted against the resolution.
Every member of Oklahoma’s delegation voted to approve the resolution, according to the House clerk’s results.
The Justice Department claims it has released all of the relevant documents. Holder said the politically motivated allegations were “reckless,” a focus on politics over public safety.
“Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year,” Holder told reporters in Washington.
The outcome was unnecessary and unwarranted, Holder said. He said when he first learned about the operation he ordered an independent investigation. During the process, he learned the tactics began in the previous administration, ended the practice and created new policies, Holder said.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was conducting operations as a member of the agency’s tactical unit in the Nogales, Ariz., area, according to U.S. Customs Border Protection, a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Terry’s team encountered five individuals, at least two of whom were arrested with rifles near Rio Rico, Ariz. During the attempt to arrest them, the agents and suspects exchanged fire. Terry, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a police officer in his home state of Michigan, was wounded during the gunfight and died on Dec. 15, 2010. He was survived by his parents, his brother and two sisters.
House Republicans claim the shift in strategy was known and authorized at the highest levels of the Justice Department. Holder has said allowing guns to “walk” is “wholly unacceptable” regardless of which party controls the White House.
Last week, after President Obama exercised executive privilege over documents subpoenaed on Oct. 12, 2011, and negotiations between the House Oversight Committee and Justice Department failed, the committee voted to hold Holder in contempt, setting up the vote in the full House.
House leaders postulated about the reason why the White House was not releasing the documents. Republicans questioned what the White House knew and why it chose to invoke executive privilege. Other observers questioned whether it was an appropriate use of executive privilege.
Now, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who works for Holder, will decide whether or not to send the contempt citation to a grand jury.
During the last five years before the end of 2011, of the nearly 94,000 guns that have been recovered and traced in Mexico more than 64,000 were sourced to the United States, according to the Justice Department. During that time, trafficking of firearms across the U.S.-Mexico border has contributed to about 40,000 deaths.
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