WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted Thursday to make Attorney General Eric Holder the first sitting attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress for withholding documents requested as part of a congressional investigation into a botched gun-running operation.
On a vote of 255 to 67, the Republican-led House successfully sanctioned Holder for failing to cooperate with an ongoing probe into Operation “Fast and Furious,” which was led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from 2009 to 2011. On a separate vote, lawmakers voted 258 to 95 to approve a civil contempt charge against Holder.
In a statement, Holder said the vote “is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided — and politically motivated — investigation during an election year.” Holder added that the Republicans leading the investigation “have focused on politics over public safety.”
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer added in a separate statement that “Republicans pushed for political theater rather than legitimate Congressional oversight.”
In the coming days, the House is expected to refer the criminal contempt charge to Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to decide whether to press charges against Holder, his boss. Based on approval of the civil contempt charge, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is expected to mount a court challenge to President Barack Obama’s decision to invoke executive privilege over some of the documents sought by the panel.
Before the vote, several Democrats walked off the House floor to protest what they characterize as a politically motivated investigation, backed in recent days by the National Rifle Association (NRA), to embarrass Holder and the White House. Led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., roughly 100 members exited through the main center door of the House floor and then walked solemnly and silently down the front steps of the U.S. Capitol, with television cameras rolling and tourists looking on.
Under the hot summer sun, member after member denounced the vote as a distracting, politically motivated sham.
“This is a somber day for the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We are declaring, by walking out, we are not participating.”