June 11 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. House panel will consider on June 20 whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to provide documents from a federal gun investigation.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee scheduled a vote because the Justice Department hasn’t fully cooperated with a congressional probe of Fast and Furious, a law enforcement operation that allowed illegal U.S. weapons purchases to wind up in Mexico, said the panel’s chairman, Darrell Issa, a California Republican, in a statement.
Republicans have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the operation. Holder has said the tactics used by law enforcement were inappropriate. The operation targeted Mexican drug cartels between 2009 and January 2011 and allowed more than 2,000 guns to be carried away.
“Congress has an obligation to investigate unanswered questions about attempts to smear whistle-blowers, failures by Justice Department officials to be truthful and candid with the congressional investigation, and the reasons for the significant delay in acknowledging reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa said in the statement.
Issa is playing “political games” and his call for a contempt vote “fits within that tired political playbook that has so many Americans disillusioned with Washington,” said Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, in a statement.
The department and Issa’s staff have been discussing a “mutually acceptable resolution” to the document requests, Schmaler said.
The Justice Department has turned over more than 7,600 pages of records, Holder said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on June 7.
The contempt proceeding will focus on additional department documents, produced after Congress began investigating the gun operation, that haven’t been provided in response to the committee’s subpoena, according to the statement.
The department has held back material where disclosure might “jeopardize the independence, integrity, and effectiveness” of criminal investigations, said Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a May 15 letter to Issa.
The Obama administration hasn’t asserted any “valid privilege” and “it is unacceptable that the Department of Justice refuses to produce them,” Issa said.
The committee shouldn’t have scheduled a contempt vote because federal law prohibits Holder from turning over many of the subpoenaed documents, said Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, in a statement.
Cummings said he is optimistic that an agreement can be reached that avoids “the needless politicization of this very serious issue.”
Two of the weapons from Fast and Furious were found at the scene of the December 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona, according to a congressional report. Other guns were found in Mexico.
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