US Attorney General Holder Held In Contempt Of Congress

by
Jackson
US Attorney General Eric Holder has been held in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over a set of files on a failed gun-running investigation.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder faces a possible contempt of Congress citation as a result of the failed "Fast and Furious" gun-running operation. April 18 file photo. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

US Attorney General Eric Holder has been held in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over a set of files on a failed gun-running investigation.

In a 255-67 vote, 17 Democrats joined with the House of Representatives' Republican majority.

Mr Holder is the first sitting attorney general and US presidential cabinet member to be held in contempt.

The White House has refused to hand over files outlining how problems with Fast and Furious first emerged.

The operation saw US agents lose track of hundreds of illegal guns allowed into Mexico to target dealers.

A US border agent was killed with a weapon linked to the operation in December 2010.

'Political game'

Mr Holder told reporters in New Orleans that the vote was "misguided" and said House members had been circulating "truly absurd" conspiracy theories.

"It will not distract me from the important tasks that are our responsibility," Mr Holder said.

On Tuesday, the justice department showed a House committee a group of documents, including emails from Mr Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole, in an attempt to stave off the vote, the Associated Press reports.

Several members of Congress, including many in the Congressional Black Caucus and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, walked out of the chamber on Thursday, labelling the vote a stunt.

"We don't want to play a part in this political game," Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks said.

Led by Republican Darrell Issa, the House Oversight Committee subpoenaed justice department documents for the period after 4 February 2011.

This is the date when justice department officials sent lawmakers a letter denying they had sanctioned or otherwise knew about the sale of guns that ended up in Mexico.

The department withdrew the letter 10 months later, acknowledging that the operation had allowed guns across the border.

The Department of Justice says it has denied access to the files because they contain information that could affect ongoing criminal investigations.

Mr Issa did not accept an offer of a set of files and a briefing on the operation, saying the department needed to hand over all the documents requested.

The justice department sent to the House Oversight Committee more than 7,000 documents relating to Fast and Furious, and to a similar operation that took place during the George W Bush administration.

The National Rifle Association has told House members that they will include the contempt vote in ratings the lobby group uses to show how lawmakers align with its interest.