House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are considering an extreme measure in a bringing up a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
This course of action is being spearheaded by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the committee of jurisdiction over investigations of federal government operations. Using the cover of an investigation of an anti-gun trafficking tactic known as “gunwalking” (the program is informally known as “Operation Fast and Furious”) that occurred under the Bush and Obama administrations, Issa, and House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor are now threatening to abuse their roles in House leadership to discredit the attorney general.
Partisanship tends to be at play when contempt citations come up. When the House is run by one party and the president is from another, it is not an uncommon discussion.
What is uncommon is the extreme nature of this witch hunt against Holder. A thorough review of these anti-trafficking activities is a legitimate exercise of congressional authority –but a contempt citation is an extreme tactic that should be reserved for extreme circumstances.
The attorney general’s activities simply do not meet that threshold.
The last two individuals held in contempt of Congress were two White House aides in the Bush administration, Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten, who cited executive privilege when they opted not to comply with subpoenas. Miers failed to appear for a congressional hearing and Bolten refused to submit any of the requested documents.
By contrast, Attorney General Holder has testified in front of Congress seven times already –and is expected to do so again this week. He has complied with Chairman Issa’s investigation, submitted more than 7,000 pages of documents to the committee, and made several senior Department of Justice officials available for testimony, interviews, and briefings.
These are not the actions of a public official in contempt of Congress.
To the contrary, Eric Holder has proven to be one of the administration’s champions for Congress and the American people. Attorney General Holder has zealously defended the federal role in immigration from state overreach, ensured that the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws are followed in federal elections, and worked with state attorneys general from all fifty states, representing both Republicans and Democrats, to protect homeowners who were victims of predatory lending.
To be fair, the attorney general has denied requests for many documents sought by Issa that would compromise ongoing federal investigations into gun traffickers. But this not a broadly interpreted citation of executive privilege that could be used to obfuscate any or all requests –as in the cases of Miers and Bolten. This is a legitimate denial of sensitive documents pertaining to the most violent criminals in the hemisphere. The difference is significant.
The House of Representatives has not cited a cabinet-level official for contempt in modern times and using this tactic would distract the entire Justice Department from its core mission of enforcing our nation’s laws.
The attempt to cite Holder for contempt is not about justice, oversight, or government reform. It’s intended to create a stain on the Office of the Attorney General.
This is an unprecedented detour from the real business of the House and an abuse of congressional authority. I hope that House Republican leaders reconsider their position.
Wade Henderson is the president and chief executive officer of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights and human rights organizations.