By a party line vote of 23 to 17 on Wednesday, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee chose to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the Department of Justice's refusal to release additional documents pertaining to the so-called "fast and furious" gun-running scandal that saw U.S. weapons end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Contempt charges will now move on to the House at large, where they are expected to be passed by the Republican-controlled chamber.
President Barack Obama invoked executive privileged last night to protect the documents from the House investigation, marking the first time his administration has done so.
Criticizing the committee's move, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that the investigation was "strictly political," adding that when she was majority leader during the last years of the Bush administration, "I could have arrested Karl Rove on any given day" due to him being held in contempt of Congress as well.
"I'm not kidding," she told reporters, according to The Huffington Post. "There's a prison here in the Capitol ... If we had spotted him in the Capitol, we could have arrested him."
Republicans at the time argued that administration officials are immune from testifying in Congressional probes due to protections afforded through executive privilege. They appear set on arguing the opposite for Attorney General Holder.
The "fast and furious" scandal centers around hundreds of guns sold to Mexican drug cartels by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which had fitted the guns with tracking devices in hopes of discovering the gangs' central arsenals. The weapons went missing due to poor monitoring capabilities, and eventually began turning up at murder scenes.
Obama has said neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder had approved the operation and that “appropriate actions” would be taken after the investigation is complete.
A House probe led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been ongoing for months, and so far they've received more than 7,000 pages of documents from the Department of Justice. Holder has said that several ongoing criminal investigations which resulted from the operation preclude him from releasing all the information Republicans are asking for.