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House Sets Holder Contempt Vote for Thursday

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) leads effort to hold Eric Holder in contempt

The House of Representatives has scheduled a contempt vote for Attorney General Eric Holder for Thursday, over his refusal to release certain documents related to the Justice Department’s response to the Fast and Furious “scandal.”

Republican leaders plan to bring the issue to the floor on Thursday, meaning lawmakers likely will vote on contempt charges on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to announce its ruling on the constitutionality of the 2010 health-care reform law.

The timing likely deprives advocates for contempt charges of the big headlines they might have received if the vote were held another day this week.

However, if the Supreme Court doesn’t take down the individual mandate, it makes it simple for House Republicans to just add the Supreme Court to the list of those in contempt of Congress. So it’s an efficiency thing, I guess.

House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa continues to say that he would waive the contempt vote if Holder releases the documents related to Fast and Furious that the committee wants. Those are assumed to be communications within the Justice Department on how to respond to the Oversight Committee’s investigation. In other words, Issa wants documents about documents about a gun-walking program, which in Issa’s eyes wasn’t a straight-forward yet botched effort to track Mexican drug runners but a pretext to generate gun violence and provide a rationale for gun control. So we’re about four notches removed from reality here, in an attempt to create the appearance of scandal.

Nevertheless, I do get queasy whenever executive privilege gets invoked, especially when it comes from an Administration that can already be said to have abused official secrecy in a variety of contexts.

Nothing much is going to come of this but embarrassment. The US Attorney in DC would have to bring charges against Holder, if as expected he gets held in contempt. When Karl Rove or Bush Administration officials were held in contempt of Congress, the DC USA didn’t bother to prosecute. And having them prosecute what amounts to their boss, the Attorney General, doesn’t seem like it will happen either. There is a concept called inherent contempt, unused since 1934, where the sergeant-at-arms of the House can arrest the subject and hold them in the House jail. I don’t think the House GOP’s end goal is to arrest Eric Holder, however. It’s to loudly broadcast that they’ve held him in contempt of Congress.

And they’ll give that a go on Thursday.

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David Dayen

David Dayen