|I haven't followed the controversy over Fast and Furious closely. I don't support the policy of selling guns to suspected drug cartel representatives, nor do I back President Barack Obama's decision to invoke executive privilege to block release of documents related to the program.
On the other hand, I suspect the motives of Congressional Republicans who aren't concerned that George W. Bush's Attorney General Michael Mukasey allowed similar operations to go on. In 16 months of investigating Fast and Furious, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hasn't even called Mukasey or former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau Director Ken Melson to testify. That indicates to me that House Republicans aren't conducting a real investigation. The Fast and Furious controversy is at the center of the National Rifle Association's campaign to get Holder removed as attorney general. They cling to the delusion that Holder and the Obama administration are seeking stricter gun control laws.
The NRA announced before yesterday's votes that finding Holder in contempt of Congress will be a scorecard issue.
The House voted on three resolutions related to Holder and the Fast and Furious investigation. First, a Democratic effort to refer the contempt citation back to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform failed by 172 votes to 251 (roll call). All of the yes votes were from Democrats, including Iowa's Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03). Republicans including Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) unanimously voted down that resolution.
Next the House approved a resolution holding the attorney general in criminal contempt of Congress by 255 votes to 67 (roll call). Here House Republicans, including Latham and King, were joined by 17 Democrats, including Boswell. Braley and Loebsack were among the no votes. Another 108 Democrats boycotted the vote by walking out of the House chamber.
Finally, the House voted 258 to 95 for a resolution backing civil court action to enforce the House committee's Fast and Furious subpeonas against the Justice Department. King and Latham were part of a united House caucus, joined by Boswell and 20 other House Democrats. Braley and Loebsack were among the 95 no votes.
Boswell did not release a statement about these votes, but they are consistent with his past support for the NRA's legislative agenda. The NRA gave Boswell an "A" grade and endorsed his re-election campaign in 2010. I wonder whether they will jointly endorse him and Latham in this year's race to represent Iowa's third Congressional district.
I haven't seen any comment from Latham on these votes, but King's office released this statement on June 28 (emphasis in original):
Washington, DC- Congressman Steve King released the following statement today after the House of Representatives passed a resolution finding attorney Eric Holder in Civil Contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents relating to the Fast and Furious scandal. The contempt resolution will now be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for enforcement of the subpoena.
"Over the past year and a half, Congress has been investigating the Fast and Furious scandal, and the fallout from the noncompliance of the Department of Justice was felt today in the House of Representatives," said King. "I fully support the resolutions passed on the House floor today. Congress has the Constitutional authority and obligation to provide oversight. To do so, it must have access to information, and its subpoena power is critical to this. Eric Holder is blocking the same justice he was appointed to uphold - and only time will tell exactly how President Obama was involved."
Braley is the only Iowan now serving on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. His office sent out this press release yesterday (emphasis in original):
Washington, D.C. - Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today released the following statement after the US House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress:
"I opposed the contempt of Congress resolution today because I don't want political games or partisan politics to stand in the way of a serious effort to find the truth.
"The best place to resolve this dispute isn't on the floor of the House in an election year, but in a federal court where both sides can present their cases and the debate won't turn into a political circus.
"I've been disappointed by the failure of both House Republicans and the Justice Department to find a practical way to get the American people the full details of this tragedy without compromising existing court orders and other national security concerns. An American was murdered and we owe it to his family and the public to get to the bottom of what happened."
Braley's Republican challenger Ben Lange released this statement:
Braley Votes No on Fast and Furious Accountability, Terry Family Left Without Answers
INDEPENDENCE, IA -- Iowa congressional candidate Ben Lange (IA-01) issued the following statement in response to the House of Representative's vote today to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to provide requested information about the "Fast and Furious Operation" that ultimately killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry:
"Border Agent Brian Terry died at the hands of weapons given to drug lords by a federal agency under the jurisdiction of Attorney General Eric Holder. The Attorney General subsequently admitted to misleading Congress and retracting a letter that contained false information about what officials in the administration knew about the "Fast and Furious Operation." The Attorney General then refused to turn over documents that would allow our elected representatives and the Terry family the ability to hold our government accountable and find out who knew what and when. Instead of holding the Attorney General accountable, however, Congressman Braley chose to play politics. The family of Brian Terry deserves better. Iowans deserve better."
Update: The Terry Family released a statement today saying that if members of Congress wanted to support their family and honor Agent Terry, then "Congressmen will call for the Attorney General to immediately provide the documents requested by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee."
The court case over the Fast and Furious documents could take months, so I assume this controversy will continue to be a political football.
In general, I have little sympathy for Holder. He is probably the most disappointing member of the Obama cabinet from my perspective. The Justice Department has done little to prosecute Wall Street criminals, despite ample evidence of foreclosure fraud, for instance. Holder also failed to address possible law-breaking by Bush administration officials, such as those who authorized torture by U.S. forces and CIA agents, and so-called "extraordinary rendition." Cherif Bassiouni, a law professor and author of a book on the Bush administration's torture policies, has observed, "Holder did not even investigate the CIA's destruction of the torture tapes, which were protected by a court order. Destruction of evidence is a crime."
As ranking member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley has been a bulldog trying to get Fast and Furious documents out of the Justice Department. I wish he were as concerned about investigating the torture policy or other possibly criminal acts of the previous administration.