House panel plans a contempt vote on Attorney General Holder next week
Holder offers to turn over requested documents on Thursday
Committee chairman says Holder's offer, if fulfilled, would postpone the vote
Documents involve the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-running sting operation
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee said Friday he would postpone next week’s scheduled vote on a contempt measure if Attorney General Eric Holder fulfills his offer to turn over more documents on the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-running sting operation.
Holder made the offer to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, a day earlier. It is the latest development of a long-running dispute over the panel’s investigation of the Fast and Furious program.
In a two-page letter to Issa on Thursday, Holder promised to provide documents he has so far refused to turn over and also proposed a face-to-face meeting by Monday.
Issa responded Friday with his own letter, saying Holder’s offer would be sufficient to postpone the vote scheduled for Wednesday on a measure citing Holder for contempt.
“While I do have substantial concerns that these documents may not be sufficient to allow the committee to complete its investigation, delivery of these documents before the scheduled consideration of contempt at 10:00 am on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, would be sufficient to justify the postponement of the proceeding to allow for the review of the materials,” Issa wrote.
Issa said he also wants to meet with Holder and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, another leading critic of the Fast and Furious program, as soon as Tuesday. Both Issa and Grassley have been demanding information from Holder’s department on the program.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched Operation Fast and Furious out of Arizona to track weapons purchases by Mexican drug cartels.
However, it lost track of more than 1,000 firearms that the agency had allowed straw buyers to carry across the border, and two of the lost weapons turned up at the scene of the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
Issa and Grassley have accused Holder and other top Justice Department officials of withholding requested documents and misleading them about when they first learned of the program.
In response to Issa’s letter Friday, Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said department officials “are pleased that Chairman Issa has agreed to our request to meet next week and we look forward to a productive session.”
“It is in the best interest of all parties to bring this matter to a final resolution by avoiding a confrontation that involves contempt, and we believe that the provision of documents must be part of an agreement that brings this matter to a close,” Schmaler’s statement said. “We trust that Chairman Issa shares our interest in doing so and will work with us in a productive and good faith manner to achieve that end.”
The documents Holder offered to share include details of how the Justice Department’s knowledge of the gun-running probe “evolved throughout 2011” and how it came to retract a February 2011 letter that denied senior officials knew of improper tactics in the botched sting.
“The department’s understanding of the facts underlying Fast and Furious became more developed, particularly as evidence came to light that was inconsistent with the initial denials provided to department personnel,” Holder wrote Thursday. “Over time, department leadership came to recognize that Fast and Furious was fundamentally flawed.”
Justice officials and Issa’s committee have been battling for months over the materials, with Issa accusing the attorney general of stonewalling the investigation into Fast and Furious. The Justice Department says it already has handed over more than 7,000 pages of records to House investigators, and says the remaining material Issa wants could jeopardize criminal prosecutions.
Holder fended off a call for his resignation Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, when Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, accused him of misleading Congress over the Fast and Furious program. Holder called Cornyn’s complaint “almost breathtaking in its inaccuracy” and added, “I don’t have any intention of resigning.”