Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Representative Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is poised to move forward tomorrow on a vote on a contempt resolution against AG Eric Holder. The Resolution and Report cite Holder's failure to turn over documents that the Committee earlier subpoenaed related to the "Fast and Furious" program.
The move will likely have no effect, except to further publicize Issa's dispute with Holder. The principal type of criminal contempt proposed in the Resolution--in which the Committee refers the matter to the U.S. Attorney for D.C.--is unlikely to go anywhere, especially if Holder cites executive privilege (which he apparently has not yet done). The other kind of contempt possibly suggested in the Resolution--inherent contempt, where Congress relies on its own constitutional power to detain a contemnor until that person complies--is long dormant (and unimaginable here). The Resolution apparently does not pursue a third kind of contempt--one in which Congress seeks a civil judgment in federal court that the person is legally obligated to comply with a congressional subpoena.
Here's the language of the Resolution:
Resolved, That Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States, shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.
Resolved, That pursuant to 2 U.S.C. Secs. 192 and 194, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall certify the report of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, detailing the refusal of Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, to produce documents to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as directed by subpoena, to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, to the end that Mr. Holder be proceeded against in the manner and form provided by law.
Resolved, That the Speaker of the House shall otherwise take all appropriate action to enforce the subpoena.
Here's from the Report's Executive Summary:
The Department of Justice has refused to comply with congressional subpoenas related to Operation Fast and Furious, an Administration initiative that allowed around two thousand firearms to fall into the hands of drug cartels and may have led to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The consequences of the lack of judgment that permitted such an operation to occur are tragic.
The Department's refusal to work with Congress to ensure that it has fully complied with the Committee's efforts to compel the production of documents and information related to this controversy is inexcusable and cannot stand. Those responsible for allowing Fast and Furious to proceed and those who are preventing the truth about the operation from coming out must be held accountable for their actions.
Having exhausted all available options in obtaining compliance, the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee recommends that Congress find the Attorney General in contempt for his failure to comply with the subpoena issued to him.
Committee Democrats issued a 13-page memo with dissenting views, concluding that going forward with Issa's contempt citation would be "an extreme and blatant abuse of the congressional contempt power that undermines the credibility of the Committee."
The Congressional Research Service recently issued a thorough report on Congress's contempt power. You might take a look at the appendix, starting on page 62, which details the history of Congress's use of that power.