Congress contempt charge for US Attorney General Holder
Published: 20th Jun 2012 23:44:24
A US House of Representatives committee has voted along party lines to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Mr Holder refused to hand over papers relating to a botched sting operation.
The move comes after President Barack Obama used his executive privilege to withhold documents sought by the House Oversight Committee.
Operation Fast and Furious saw US agents lose hundreds of illegal guns let into Mexico to trace arms dealers.
US border agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010 in a shootout with illegal immigrants with a weapon linked to Fast and Furious.
The congressional investigation was opened after two guns retrieved at the scene were found to be among 2,000 weapons authorities were supposed to be tracking.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have said they will schedule a full vote next week on the issue.
It's an election-year tactic intended to distract attention”
Shortly after the committee vote, House Speaker John Boehner tweeted an ultimatum, saying a full House vote would be held unless Mr Holder co-operated with the inquiry.
But Mr Holder said claimed the justice department had not been co-operative were "untrue".
Committee chairman Representative Darrell Issa has "chosen to use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch," Mr Holder said.
"This divisive action does not help us fix the problems that led to this operation or previous ones and it does nothing to make any of our law enforcement agents safer," he said, calling it "an election-year tactic".
The Department of Justice says it has denied access to the files because they contain information that could affect ongoing criminal investigations.
Its officials say they have already sent more than 7,000 documents to the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.
Wednesday's use of executive privilege for withholding documents is the first time Mr Obama has invoked the power. Former Presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton used the privilege six and 14 times respectively during their eight-year terms.
On Tuesday, Mr Holder met Mr Issa, but they did not agree on a path forward.
Mr Holder said lawmakers had turned down his offer to give them the documents, along with a briefing on the operation, in exchange for assurances that the panel would drop contempt proceedings.
Officials charged with contempt of Congress could potentially be fined or jailed - but correspondents say this standoff is unlikely to provoke such an outcome.
Historically, Congress and the White House have negotiated agreements to avoid a court battle that would limit either Congress' subpoena power or executive privilege itself.
In a separate development on Tuesday, the family of an Immigartion and Customs Enforcement agent killed in Mexico has filed a $25m wrongful death lawsuit against several US officials, including Mr Holder.
Jaime Zapata's family say the weapons that killed him were brought into Mexico because of US investigations into gun trafficking.
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Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Congress contempt charge for US Attorney General Holder [Online] (Updated 20th Jun 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1435939/Congress-contempt-charge-for-US-Attorney-General-Holder [Accessed 16th Apr 2014]
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