Dems: Issa’s Pursuit Of Holder Contempt Vote ‘Irresponsible, Unprecedented’

If Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department can’t reach an agreement that will avoid a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt next Wednesday, the Democrats will be prepared.

Democratic members of the Oversight Committee released a memo on Thursday calling Rep. Darrell Issa’s case to find Holder in contempt for what he says was a failure to comply with a subpoena, “irresponsible, unprecedented, and contrary to the rule of law.”

A contempt vote, they say, would be “an extreme and blatant abuse of congressional contempt power that undermines the credibility of the Committee.”

As things stand, the House Oversight Committee will vote on Wednesday on a resolution finding Holder in contempt of Congress. The draft contempt resolution contends that Holder did not comply with a subpoena issued by the committee last year for documents related to the the botched ATF operation known as “Fast and Furious.”There are signs, however, that the Justice Department and Issa could settle the dispute before the Republican-controlled House takes the largely political step of holding a member of President Obama’s Cabinet in contempt during an election year.

Issa wrote a letter to Holder Wednesday saying he was willing to meet and discuss settling the dispute if DOJ “submits a serious proposal for how it intends to alter its refusal to produce critical documents subpoenaed by the Committee.”

Issa’s letter says that the Justice Department needs to drop its opposition to releasing documents created after Feb. 4, 2011. That’s the date when the Justice Department sent a letter to Congress denying that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed the sale of weapons to suspected “straw purchasers” for Mexican drug cartels. The Justice Department made the unusual move of withdrawing that letter months later and said DOJ leadership was provided with bad information by officials on the ground in Arizona.

While Issa’s original subpoena requested a huge trove of documents, he and House leadership narrowed the scope of their request over the past month. They are now focusing on documents related to the DOJ’s response to questions from Congress about Fast and Furious and allegations that whistle-blowers were mistreated.

Previously, DOJ has declined to provide such documents, arguing that internal deliberative communications about responding to congressional inquires should be kept confidential. DOJ already deviated from that practice by providing deliberative materials leading up to the Feb. 4 letter to Congress and Holder indicated this week that he may be willing to accommodate Issa’s requests for post-Feb. 4 materials.

A DOJ official told TPM that the department viewed Issa’s letter, which narrowed the scope of the document request, as a positive step.

The Democratic memo also criticizes Issa for politicizing the inquiry by “systematically refusing to investigate gunwalking operations during the Bush Administration and by disregarding clear evidence that contradicts the political narrative in the Contempt Citation.”

Democrats criticize Issa for refusing to hold a public hearing with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was briefed on botched efforts to coordinate firearm seizures with Mexican law enforcement officials back in 2007.

“The Chairman should be commended for helping to expose a series of gunwalking
operations conducted by ATF field agents in Arizona over a span of five years dating back to the Bush Administration,” the memo concludes. “We cannot support this Contempt Citation, however, which holds the Attorney General to an impossible standard by demanding documents the Committee knows he cannot produce, and by disregarding our Constitutional obligation to avoid conflict and seek accommodations when possible.”

Late Update: Holder said in a letter to Issa that he’s willing to compromise and turn over the post-February 4 documents. Holder proposed meeting with Issa on Monday, June 18.