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Issa and DOJ exchange tough words over possible Holder contempt charge

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Wed May 16, 2012
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darryl Issa, R-California, wants more documents from the Justice Department.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darryl Issa, R-California, wants more documents from the Justice Department.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • GOP House members are expected to decide on a contempt citation this month
  • At issue are documents concerning the ill-fated "Operation Fast and Furious"
  • The operation focused on gun trafficking along the Mexican-U.S. border
  • About a thousand firearms went missing during the operation

Washington (CNN) -- The partisan impasse over potential contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder continues following a lengthy letter from the deputy attorney general, and a blunt response from the House Oversight Committee chairman.

The latest volley started with a 13-page letter from Holder's deputy, James Cole, to committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, arguing against contempt.

"A contempt proceeding would be unwarranted given the information the Justice Department has disclosed to the Committee to date," Cole wrote. He also called such an action "unprecedented" given the law enforcement issues, and "ill-advised" given the damage it would cause to relations between the executive and legislative branches of the government.

In the letter, Cole repeated Holder's previous admissions that "Operation Fast and Furious" was fundamentally flawed as a solution to gun trafficking at the Mexican border. After months of congressional investigations, the Justice Department had acknowledged that its agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, made a serious tactical error in allowing guns to be purchased by straw buyers and then smuggled across the border to drug cartels.

What was supposed to be a sting operation turned into a nightmare when about 1,000 firearms went missing during the operation and ended up in the hands of drug lords. The fiasco reached crisis proportions when a U.S. Border Patrol agent was slain in Arizona near the border in December 2010, and two of the missing weapons were discovered at the scene of the killing.

Republicans in Congress have been demanding answers. Issa wants any document that could shed light on the operation. Cole says DOJ has sent tens of thousands of pages of documents, answered all the questions at hearing, and given the committee most of what it wants. But Issa says that's not enough.

"While the Committee has subpoenaed documents that address what senior officials were told about controversial gunwalking tactics during Operation Fast and Furious, the Justice Department pointedly refuses to provide them or to deny senior officials were given information in the course of the Operation indicating the existence of reckless tactics," a spokesman for Issa said Wedneday.

Republican House members are expected to reach a decision on voting a contempt citation by the end of May, GOP officials say.

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