House Democrats are mounting an aggressive defense of Eric Holder, as they try to head off a push by their Republican counterparts to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress over alleged "stonewalling" in their investigation of the botched "Operation Fast and Furious."
In a memo circulated Thursday to Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, aides to the committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., say the Republicans' argument for contempt, laid out in a contempt citation last month, is "irresponsible, unprecedented, and contrary to the rule of law."
"It would hold the Attorney General in contempt not only for complying with statutes passed by
Congress that require him to protect documents from disclosure, but also for withholding documents relating to ongoing criminal investigations that have been protected consistently by Democratic and Republican administrations to safeguard the lives of informants and ensure the integrity of active criminal investigations," the Democrats' memo says.
For more than a year, Republicans have been leading an investigation into "Fast and Furious," which was launched in Arizona in late 2009 by Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials, with help from the U.S. attorney's office there. The operation's targets bought nearly 2,000 weapons over several months. But for reasons that are still in dispute, most of the weapons sold were never followed, and high-powered weapons tied to the investigation ended up at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States, including the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Republicans scheduled the contempt vote for June 20 after accusing Holder of failing to comply with a subpoena and turn over tens of thousands of still-undisclosed documents -- though Holder and Republicans have opened the door to negotiating and potentially avoiding next week's confrontation. The measure, if it remains on the agenda, would be voted on at the committee level and would still have to be approved by the full House.