Attorney General Eric Holder could soon be declared in contempt of Congress, if House Republicans have their way.
Led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republicans told The Los Angeles Times on Friday that they have been stonewalled by the Department of Justice in their probe of a law enforcement operation that saw U.S. firearms end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Confirming the report, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) told the committee on Friday that Holder “is leading us down a path where we have no other choice.” He added that if Holder would simply turn over an additional 73,000 pages of documents, the threat of a contempt citation would subside.
“We can end this tonight if the Department of Justice will turn over these documents and hold the senior-most individuals… accountable for their actions,” he said, according to Politico. CBS News added that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has not yet decided to pursue the contempt citation, which would require a vote by the full House.
Issa’s probe of the “fast and furious” gun running operation has been ongoing for months, and they’ve so far received more than 7,000 pages of documents from the DOJ. Holder said that several ongoing criminal investigations which resulted from the operation preclude him from releasing all the information Republicans are asking for.
The sting, which was set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in 2009, saw hundreds of guns sold to Mexican drug cartels. The scheme failed, however, and hundreds of weapons went missing, with some turning up later at crime scenes.
Two of the firearms in particular were discovered near the body of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed near the Mexican border in 2010. Holder has profusely denied that he knew about the ATF’s illegal sales and asked for an internal DOJ probe.
The last time Congress issued a contempt citation was in 2008, amid a probe into the Bush administration’s politically-motivated firing of U.S. attorneys. Two Bush officials were held in contempt by Congressional Democrats after they refused to comply with subpoenas that would have compelled their testimony.
Republicans at the time argued that administration officials are immune from Congressional probes due to protections afforded through executive privilege, but a court ultimately agreed with House Democrats and upheld the citations.
Ironically, if the Republican-led House did pass a contempt motion against Holder, it would leave Holder himself to enforce it, and could ultimately trigger his recusal from the case altogether.