(CNSNews.com) – House Democrats defended Attorney General Eric Holder, who faces a contempt of Congress vote against him on Thursday for withholding documents related to the botched gun-walking program Operation Fast and Furious. Also, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said his support for contempt votes against Bush administration personnel were not comparable to the situation today.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a supporter of stricter gun control laws, said there is “nothing there,” in reference to Fast and Furious, a Justice Department program that began in the fall of 2009 and allowed guns to flow to Mexico. It was halted when two guns from the program were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December 2010.
“Instead of going after guns, this Congress is going after the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, with a contempt charge that has nothing to do with guns or Fast and Furious,” Maloney said. “I call Fast and Furious vast and spurious because there is nothing there, and Attorney General Holder is the one who ended the program.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted for the contempt charge last week, a few hours after President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege over the documents.
Maloney was joined by several other House Democrats at a press conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
The Justice Department has provided the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with 7,600 documents. But the committee has subpoenaed many more documents that would show, among other things, how the Justice Department reacted after Congress started asking questions about the gun-walking program.
“I am drafting legislation that will be introduced that will call upon the Speaker who in the next 24 hours can do as Speaker Newt Gingrich did in 1998 when a citation came out of the Oversight Committee for Attorney General Janet Reno -- I was here,” Lee said. “I’m a member of the Judiciary Committee. Speaker Newt Gingrich at that time did not allow that contempt citation to come to the floor of the House.”
In an interview after the press conference, CNSNews.com asked Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) about his past position regarding executive privilege and contempt of Congress.
In 2008, Conyers called for a contempt of Congress resolution against former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten regarding information sought by Congress in the firing of U.S. attorneys.
On Feb. 13, 2008, Conyers said, “If the executive branch can disregard congressional subpoenas in this way, we no longer have a system of checks and balances.”
Conyers said Wednesday that he stands by that statement and that it is not comparable to the Fast and Furious investigation.
CNSNews.com asked, “What about this situation? Is the Justice Department not disregarding congressional subpoenas?”
Conyers answered, “No, good God, the Bush administration ignored everything that I did for six months. We did everything we could to avoid a contempt citation. Eric Holder has been before the House Congress nine times, thousands of pages of information and, at his last meeting, he actually gave information that was privileged that he really didn’t have to submit. I think he knew that. But I knew it. So they are two completely different situations. So my statement still stands.”
Conyers added, “It’s been made pretty clear to me and, I think, most people that this is more or less a kind of political witch hunt because, as you know, this operation started long before Obama ever got to the White House.”
CNSNews.com followed, “But operation Wide Receiver was actually done in conjunction with the Mexican government. The Mexican government wasn’t aware of Fast and Furious. Does that make a difference?”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t either,” Conyers answered, in reference to Holder. “The attorney general wasn’t [aware of Fast and Furious] either and he also got misrepresented information from the law enforcement people he sought it from. It turned out that they were running the rogue operation themselves and they gave him the wrong information.”