By Alan Silverleib
The House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over documents tied to the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting — a discredited operation that has become a sharp point of contention between Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
The House approved a pair of criminal and civil measures against the attorney general, marking the first time in American history that the head of the Justice Department has been held in contempt by Congress.
House members approved the criminal contempt measure in a 255-67 vote. Almost every House Republican backed the measure, along with 17 Democrats. Shortly thereafter, the civil measure passed in a sharply polarized 258-95 vote.
A large number of Democrats — including members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — walked off the House floor in protest and refused to participate in the criminal contempt vote. A slightly smaller number of Democrats appeared to boycott the vote on the civil measure as well.
Speaking in New Orleans, Holder dismissed the House action as “the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided — and politically motivated — investigation during an election year.” In a written statement, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer blasted congressional Republicans for pushing “political theater rather than legitimate congressional oversight.”
The criminal contempt charge refers the dispute to District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who will decide whether to file charges against Holder. Most legal analysts do not expect Machen — an Obama appointee who ultimately answers to Holder — to take any action.
The civil measure allows the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to file a lawsuit asking the courts to examine the Justice Department’s failure to produce certain subpoenaed documents, as well as the validity of the administration’s recent assertion of executive privilege over the documents in question.