On June 28th, Congress voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to turn over documents the Committee requested regarding Operation Fast and Furious - an operation that was monitoring the traf- ficking of arms into Mexico.
Holder is the first U.S. Attorney General charged with contempt. Contempt actions were issued against Henry Kissinger in 1975, Interior Secretary James Watt in 1982 and Attorney General Janet Reno in 1998, but compromises were reached before these actions ever reached a full House vote. Karl Rove and Harriet Myers were held in contempt in 2008, but neither action was ever resolved. In 1983, an EPA offi- cial Rita Lavelle became the only executive branch official who was held in contempt, prosecuted and convicted of lying to Congress. Some like Al Sharpton believe that the issue is a racially charged one.
"The highest officer of law and order in this nation has been ridiculed, scape- 6 goated and handled as some sort of criminal throughout this 'investigation.' Turning over thousands of documents and overextending himself, Attorney General Holder was spoken to and mistreated as if he were a child, and reminded that despite his esteemed position, he can and would be profiled. Attorney General Holder was in essence 'stopped & frisked' without probable cause, and after he cooperated, he was made an example of."
Others, however, such as Mychal Massie, Project 21 Chairman, strongly disagrees: "In America, criminal investi- gations are not based on status, wealth, position, or color. We are a nation of laws and no one is above them regardless of what Obama and Holder believe and regardless of Sharpton's claims that it is wrong for a black man who holds elected office to comply with a Congressional investigation. Neither Holder's color nor his position permit him to decide what papers he will turn over and/or in what way he will cooperate with a criminal investigation into his department."
The contempt vote
Operation Fast and Furious—based in Phoenix and implemented in 2009 by the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives— was set up to follow weapons purchased by Mexican drug cartels. The plan was to sell guns to presumed criminals, allow those same guns to "walk" across the border so they could be tracked when used in crimes and ultimately lead to the arrests of highlevel Mexican drug cartels. But the agency lost track of more than 1,000 firearms that where subsequently carried across the border, two of which turned up at the scene of the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Since the operation went awry, the House Oversight Committee has sought documents that reveal how the Justice Department handled the failed sting oper- ation, going so far as to issue subpoenas demanding them. During the Committee's year-and-a-half-long investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, the Department of Justice, which Holder heads, had turned over 7,600 documents about the conduct of the operation.
Concerned that releasing more docu- ments might adversely affect ongoing operations, Holder had been accused of