WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice has promptly told the House of Representatives that it will not pursue a criminal contempt of Congress citation against its boss, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., because they believe his refusal to release internal documents “does not constitute a crime.”
In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, sent even before House Republicans could refer the criminal contempt citation for prosecution, Deputy Attorney Gen. James M. Cole cited President Barack Obama’s assertion of executive privilege and other obstacles in refusing to cooperate.
But House Republicans passed a second, civil contempt citation that allows them to hire their own attorney and legal staff to file a civil lawsuit asking a judge to force Holder to turn over 1,500 pages of documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-tracking case. It is his refusal to do so that brought the two contempt citations passed by the House on Thursday evening.
Cole’s letter arrived on Capitol Hill at 7 p.m. Thursday, just two hours after the House passed the contempt citation and before the speaker could forward it to Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. Attorney in Washington.
It said “the department has determined” that Holder’s decision not to honor a congressional subpoena for the records “does not constitute a crime, and therefore the department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the attorney general.”
Frederick Hill, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has led the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, said, “We expected that response, but not that quickly.”
He added that Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, remains undaunted and has been authorized to find an outside attorney and legal staff and proceed with the civil lawsuit.
In another development Friday, portions of sealed wiretap applications in Fast and Furious were printed in the Congressional Record after Issa inserted them in the record during Thursday’s debate on contempt. The applications were approved by senior Justice Department officials, which Issa said shows that Washington was well aware of the “gun-walking” tactics in Fast and Furious.
“Currently,” said one application, “our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to continue to take place…”
However Holder and other Justice officials maintain they were not aware of the tactics and did not approve Fast and Furious, and that they shut the program down as soon they learned illegal guns were being allowed on the Southwest Border.
©2012 Tribune Co.