WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress yesterday for refusing to turn over internal documents discussing the Justice Department's botched Operation Fast and Furious gun-tracking program.
Republicans said they needed to take the extreme step because Holder is refusing to turn over internal emails discussing the Justice Department's discussions of the operation. They say they need the documents since Holder first denied any personal knowledge of the operation and then acknowledged he was aware of it. Democrats called the charges an effort to embarrass the Obama administration in an election year, with some accusing the Republicans of racism for challenging the African-American attorney general.
The votes to hold Holder in both civil and criminal contempt made him the first sitting U.S. attorney general ever held in contempt by the House.
The House voted 255-67 to hold Holder in criminal contempt. One lawmaker, Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., voted "present."
Following warnings from the politically powerful National Rifle Association that it considered the actions against Holder a loyalty test, 17 Democrats voted with Republicans for contempt. Only two Republicans, Reps. Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Scott Rigell of Virginia, voted no.
The civil contempt count passed 258-95 with five Democrats voting "present." Twenty-one Democrats voted with Republicans and 85 Democrats didn't vote.
Holder, who was in Orlando, Fla., addressing the League of United Latin American Citizens convention, defiantly denounced the votes as "the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year."
"As a result of the action taken today by the House, an unnecessary court conflict will ensue," he said. "It's clear that they were not interested in bringing an end to this dispute or even obtaining the information they say they wanted."