By Dustin Hurst ǀ Watchdog.org
HELENA — Montana Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg voted Thursday afternoon to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to a gun walking program gone awry.
House members voted 256-66 to approve the contempt resolution, with 17 Democrats crossing the aisle to join a Republican majority. Most congressional Democrats, however, walked out of the chamber during the vote, protesting it as a political stunt.
“While the Senate continues to turn a blind eye to Obama administration abuse, the House will do the job that the American people sent us here to do and provide a necessary balance to unchecked executive power,” Rehberg wrote. “Despite years of unaccountability, the president and his administration are not above the law, especially when they’re seeking to undermine the Constitution.”
Additionally, Rehberg called for Holder’s resignation. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s time for Eric Holder to step aside,” he wrote.
Following California U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa’s lead, House Republicans have investigated the operation for more than 18 months. They contend Holder’s U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) botched Fast and Furious, a Bush-era sting operation, accelerated under the Obama administration, that put thousands of specially marked guns on the black market near Mexico’s border with the U.S.
The guns were supposed to lead U.S. and Mexican authorities to violent drug traffickers. When law enforcement simply lost track of the guns, critics say, Holder’s department tried to cover up the mistake.
The issue is emotionally charged, in part because two guns used in the operation were found at the murder scene of Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent, in December 2010.
Through numerous hearings, Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government has reviewed thousands of DOJ documents, but says Holder is withholding critical evidence from Congress. Issa subpoenaed much of the information, but Holder balked.
Last Wednesday, President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege, meaning the documents will not see the light of day.
Holder responded to the contempt vote with disdain, calling it a political gimmick.
“Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided – and politically motivated – investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety,” Holder wrote in a prepared statement.
“Instead of trying to correct the problems that led to a series of flawed law enforcement operations, and instead of helping us find ways to better protect the brave law enforcement officers, like Agent Brian Terry, who keep us safe – they have led us to this unnecessary and unwarranted outcome.”
The contempt vote may be the final resolution in the matter. The charge sends the controversy for review by District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen – who answers to Holder. CNN writes that no charges are expected for Holder.