Issa: 'Our Purpose Has Never Been to Hold the Attorney General in Contempt'

By Fred Lucas | June 20, 2012 | 11:22am EDT

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speaks to reporters following his meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

( – In a last-minute maneuver before a House panel voted on a contempt of Congress charge against embattled Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department notified the House that President Barack Obama was invoking executive privilege to shield documents pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) made the announcement in his opening remarks to the committee on Wednesday morning.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole sent a letter invoking executive privilege over a “narrow subset” of documents in the case.

Issa pointed out that the subpoenas are eight months old. He also said he has had no direct communication from the president regarding executive privilege. Issa said he found no reason to hold up the proceedings and the contempt vote.

“Our purpose has never been to hold the attorney general in contempt. Our Purpose has always been to get the information the committee needs to complete its work that it is not only entitled to do but is obligated to do,” Issa told the committee Wednesday.

“If the Justice Department had delivered the documents they freely admitted they could deliver, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “We have not received a credible reason for them not being supplied,” he added later.

Issa noted that Holder is asking Issa’s committee to close its investigation before the committee even gets to see the documents “he is pretending to offer.” Holder made the offer in a Tuesday evening  meeting with Issa, but he brought no documents with him, Issa said.

No committee chairman would accept such a deal, Issa said.

“This committee will be considering today a very narrow contempt, but members on both sides of the dais have repeatedly said that we owe it to the Terry family to get to the truth,” he concluded.

Ranking committee member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) closed ranks with the Obama administration, saying it “didn’t have to be this way.”

“We could have postponed today’s vote and accepted the Attorney General’s offer,” Cumming said.

Committee Democrat Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) called the contempt hearing “a political witch hunt” in an election year.

Operation Fast and Furious was a Justice Department program that began in September 2009 that allowed nearly 2,000 guns to flow into Mexico. Federal agents intended to track the guns to drug cartel leaders, but the effort failed.

The operation was halted when two of the straw-purchased guns were found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

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