This week, Attorney General Eric Holder became the first member of a presidential cabinet to be held in contempt of Congress in American history after he withheld documents that House Republican lawmakers requested as part of an investigation into a flawed gun-running operation.
The move by a highly partisan Congress could lead to court challenges to get Holder to provide the demanded material. But this maneuver is not really about the desire of Congress to get various materials since Holder has provided the lawmakers with more than 7,000 documents. This is a highly political move to embarrass and neutralize an attorney general whose policies the Republican right find repugnant.
The vote, led by a highly politicized Republican Congressional leadership, came on the same day that President Obama won a victory in the Supreme Court, which voted to uphold his administration’s health care inititive.
In a statement, Holder said the vote in Congress was “the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided — and politically motivated — investigation during an election year.” He said that the Republicans were conducting an investigation that focused “on politics over public safety.”
He is absolutely right. The attack on Holder has less to do with his not handing over documents regarding the 18-month-long investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
Holder is the object of strong derision from the right-wing Republicans, who resent what the attorney general has represented. Holder, after all, is the official who led the Justice Department in blocking several states from implementing voter identification laws that would make it more challenging for Black, Latino and student voters to go to the polls.
As attorney general, Holder has been a strong advocate of launching vigorous attacks on hate crimes, human trafficking and police misconduct. So, for Republicans, the vote was designed to serve as a move to humiliate the nation’s highest law enforcement officer.
The contempt vote by the Republicans in Congress remains largely symbolic. The lawmakers are expected to vote to have criminal charges filed against Holder. However, the decision to file charges will be made by the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, who reports to the attorney general.
If anyone in Congress did the right thing, it was the more than 100 Democrats, who walked off the House floor to protest what the vote and the investigation, which they pointed out was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, as a move to embarrass both Holder and President Obama.
“This is a terrible day for the House of Representatives,” said Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, a Democrat from Missouri and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in the most clearheaded observation to come from Congress on the topic of Holder. He led members of the caucus to walk out during the vote. “We are declaring, by walking out, we are not participating.”
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