It seems that House Republicans are not yet finished with raking Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. over the coals regarding the botched federal law enforcement operation that funneled U.S. firearms to Mexican drug cartels.
House Republicans filed a federal civil lawsuit against Holder Aug. 13 to compel the attorney general to produce documents related to the tactic, dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious,” in which authorities allowed guns to pass into the hands of gun smugglers in order to track them up the cartels’ food chains.
“We are filing charges against Attorney General Eric Holder tomorrow,” Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tweeted Aug. 12.
In an interview the day the lawsuit was filed, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the American people need to understand quite clearly what recent acts by some of his colleagues across the aisle in Congress have in mind as they pursue the case against Holder. Quite simply, they are taking the President to the woodshed.
“This is all aimed at the President,” Cummings said. “This is all about trying to weaken him. There is a distinct purpose in all of this.”
Cummings said the campaign to discredit Holder, a notoriously strong-minded Black man known to stand his ground, is also motivated by a desire by Republicans to keep the attorney general’s attention diverted from his efforts to protect voter rights. If efforts to reduce the number of minority, poor and elderly voters are successful, Obama will face a stiffer challenge in his re-election effort in November.
“Most Democrats, including me, feel that what they are doing to Eric Holder is uncalled for, unfair and unwarranted,” Cummings said. “This is the first time in the history of this country that a cabinet official has been found in contempt.”
Cummings said he was there two weeks before the contempt vote when Holder met with Issa and two other legislators. Holder told them that he had presented several documents, including some that were not requested. He asked if additional documents were turned over, if he could count on the legislators to act in good faith and make a sincere effort to reach a resolution to the debacle. Holder contends that he was not aware of Fast and Furious and that he was lied to be federal law enforcement officials when he inquired into the allegations of gunwalking.
“Mr. Issa said ‘No,’” Cummings said. “I am convinced Mr. Issa already had in mind what he planned to do.”
The GOP-controlled House voted in June to censure Holder, citing his refusal to turn over documents related to the Justice Department’s reaction to the congressional investigation. The “gunwalking” operation resulted in the loss of more than 1,000 weapons, some of which were used to commit crimes, including the slaying of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.
The Justice Department gave congressional investigators thousands of pages of documents related to the operation. But the department declined to pass on documents related to its internal communication concerning the matter, and the White House supported that decision by invoking executive privilege.
The Republican complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to invalidate Obama’s invocation of privilege and compel Holder to produce the documents.
In a statement, Issa said President Obama was trying to “obstruct the truth.”
“President Obama exceeded his authority by asserting executive privilege over subpoenaed documents related to the Justice Department’s cover-up of Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa said. “Waiting nearly eight months after the subpoena had been issued to assert a meritless claim of privilege, the President’s decision was a calculated political maneuver designed to stop the release of documents until after November’s elections.”
But Democrats and some political analysts say it’s Republicans that are being motivated by politics.
“I think it is kind of a political version of guerilla warfare,” said Lester Spence, associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.
Though he hesitated from engaging in “conspiracy theories,” Spence added, one motive for the GOP’s persistence in targeting Holder could be his department’s work in enforcing voting rights.
“I don’t want to sound too conspiratorial but one argument could be that the more Holder is tied up with this lawsuit, the less resources he has to expend on fighting against efforts to keep African Americans from voting,” he said, referring to GOP-fueled voter ID and other laws that seem tailored to suppress voters of color.
In responding to the House’s sanction in June, Holder called the move a “crass effort and grave disservice to the American people.”
“As a result of the action taken today by the House, an unnecessary court conflict will ensue,” Holder stated June 28. “My efforts to resolve this matter short of such a battle were rebuffed by Congressman Issa and his supporters. It’s clear that they were not interested in bringing an end to this dispute or obtaining the information they claimed to seek. Ultimately, their goal was the vote that – with the help of special interests – they now have engineered.”
Black congressional lawmakers, who walked out on the vote to censure Holder, also condemned their Republican colleagues for the lawsuit, saying it detracted from more important issues.
“While this Congress should be addressing critical issues like creating jobs and fixing our economy, House Republicans continue their plot to discredit Attorney General Holder,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement. “This partisan effort to distract Americans from Republican inaction on the real problems we face every day continues,” he added. “It’s a waste of tax payers’ money and it’s a disgrace to the American people. It is past time for Congress to get serious, work together, and do what is necessary to get this country focused on issues that really matter.”
Cummings said he believes the shenanigans will result in a backlash.
“I think people get it,” he said. “When I talk to Blacks and Whites, they say they feel that [Holder] is being abused and disrespected and they are offended by it. I have heard that from Democrats and some of my Republican friends.”