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Stonewalling Congress

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The Attorney General to the United States has been a position in American government since President Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789. It is through the appointment of the Attorney General that the Federal Government gains the chief law enforcement office and head of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The highest ranking law enforcement officer in America should know what goes on within his department; although for the past year-and-a-half, Eric Holder has claimed to have no knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious prior to a few weeks before his first hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform under the leadership of Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California).

The Oversight Committee has been investigating the details of Operation Fast and Furious, a firearms trafficking operation that resulted in a major gunwalking scandal, where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot down and murdered by a rifle illegally sold to a Mexican drug cartel on December 14, 2010. Many Republicans on the committee feel that the highest prosecutorial officer in the U.S should have information regarding guns that were supplied by the DOJ and connected with over 100 crimes in both Mexico and the United States, as well as guns that were used to murder two government officers.

Congress has tirelessly subpoenaed documents related to finding the person or persons responsible for this grave error. Holder has been uncooperative, consistently “stonewalling” requests and questions during eight prior congressional hearings, in which he was instructed to comply with the congressional investigation.

During the last few weeks, both the House and Senate held a Judiciary Committee hearing on Oversight of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) opened the House Committee hearing by stating that the Obama Administration has disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law. Smith’s substantiating examples included the Department of Justice’s failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas, which could reveal key information on Operation Fast and Furious, failure to provide information showing Justice Kagan’s involvement in the development of ObamaCare, while she held the position of Solicitor General, as well as the refusal of the administration to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which has been federal law since President Clinton signed the heavily backed legislation into law.

Chairman Smith clarified in his opening statement on Thursday, June 7, that despite how one feels about a law, they are required to enforce it; it is still the law of the land, and the Attorney General of the United States has an obligation to defend it.Regardless of many concerns from committee members, the main focus of the hearing revolved around Operation Fast and Furious. Adding fuel to the inferno, Holder sidestepped a direct question asked by Rep. Issa in the Judiciary Committee, resulting in Rep. Issa stating that Holder was a “bad witness” and needed to answer the committee member’s questions.

The interaction between Republicans in Congress and Holder was argumentative as the frustration built.The announcement to discuss a report holding Holder in contempt of Congress, scheduled for June 20, was not surprising.

The dissatisfaction with Holder’s performance did not end in the House. On June 12, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Oversight of the DOJ, and their sole witness was Attorney General Eric Holder.Despite the Senate being controlled by the Left, the result of the hearing was similar to that of the House. Members asked Holder for information, and he sidestepped the questions. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) caught the media’s attention when he asked Holder to resign, stating Holder violated the public trust and won’t let Congress do its job. Sen. Cornyn also stated that the American people deserve an attorney general who will “put justice before politics.”

As the meeting to consider holding Holder in contempt of Congress approached, Holder was asked to give certain documents over to the House Committee on Oversight for review. Instead of complying – even with a vote of contempt hanging in the balance – Holder made a last minute offer to Rep. Issa’s committee: Dismiss the case, and I’ll brief you on Operation Fast & Furious.No one was shocked when Rep. Issa declined. What was a bit shocking was the fact that, with negotiations between Holder and Rep. Issa continuing up to minutes before the meeting, President Obama suddenly claimed executive privilege over the documents in question.

Unshaken, Chairman Issa decided to move ahead with the hearing. After a long day of debate between both parties in the House, the committee finally voted along party lines, issuing a vote of contempt by 23-17. House Leadership then quickly stated that they will bring the vote to the House floor next week if Holder does not comply with Congress’ request for documents.

Holder is the first attorney general to face a vote of contempt that has progressed this far.