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    House panel votes to hold Eric Holder in contempt

    Fast and Furious scandal: House panel votes to hold Eric Holder in contempt

    By Ed O’Keefe, Peter Wallsten and Sari Horwitz, Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 1:55 PM

    A House panel voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for failing to cooperate with a congressional inquiry into Operation “Fast and Furious,” hours after President Obama asserted executive privilege over related documents.

    On a party-line decision, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 23 to 17 to hold Holder in contempt for failing to share documents related to the operation run out of the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives between 2009 and 2011, with the backing of the U.S. attorney in Phoenix. The move makes Holder the first member of Obama’s Cabinet held in contempt by a congressional committee.

    The panel’s actions will be reported to the full House, where Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and GOP leaders have scheduled a floor vote for next week unless Holder hands over the documents before then. If passed by the House, the matter would then move to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen Jr., who is an employee of the Justice Department.

    After the vote, Holder called the vote a “divisive action” that “does nothing to make any of our law enforcement agents safer.”

    “It’s an election-year tactic intended to distract attention -- and, as a result -- has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people,” Holder said.

    Obama’s decision to withhold the documents — his first use of executive privilege in response to a congressional investigation — and the House panel’s vote quickly intensified a long-simmering feud between the White House and Republican lawmakers and set up a clash over the extent of presidential power that may take months to resolve.

    Ahead of the vote, Holder said in a letter to Obama that sharing the Fast and Furious documents “would raise substantial separation of powers concerns and potentially create an imbalance in the relationship” between Congress and the White House.

    Releasing the documents “would inhibit candor of such Executive Branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the Executive Branch’s ability to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight,” Holder wrote.

    Adding to the administration's defiance, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer accused Republicans Wednesday of orchestrating a “taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition.”

    “Given the economic challenges facing the country,” Pfeiffer said in a statement, “we believe that House Republicans should work with the rest of Congress and the president to create more jobs, not more political theater.”

    Executive privilege has been invoked throughout U.S. history by presidential administrations to preserve the confidentiality of information in the face of legislative inquiries. The privilege is qualified, not absolute, and can be overturned in courts. But disputes over access to information rarely reach the courts and are most often resolved through political negotiations, according to the Congressional Research Service.

    Fast and Furious scandal: House panel votes to hold Eric Holder in contempt - The Washington Post
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