Last week, the House committee investigating the fatally flawed ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ passed a resolution to cite U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with Contempt of Congress. This week Thursday, according to CNN, that same resolution is scheduled to go before the full chamber for a vote. If it passes – then what happens?
It’s a good question, one well deserving of a legitimate answer. Over the weekend, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace had a chance to ask the point man leading the ‘Fast and Furious’ probe, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), that very question:
WALLACE: All right. Let me get to you, Congressman Issa. Let’s assume in fact that the House votes this week to hold Holder in contempt. Then what?
Because you can refer it to the U.S. attorney who works for Holder and in all likelihood will say he’s not going to prosecute his boss. You can file a lawsuit in federal court, which will takes years, that you can impeach him. You can arrest him or try to arrest him and have a standoff between the sergeant in arms and his security people or do you just let it sit there.
ISSA: Chris, I’m going to continue my investigation. I left a message with Brian Terry’s mother, Josie, last night.
WALLACE: Brian Terry, of course, is the border patrol agent who was killed in December of 2010. And two of the weapons from “Fast and Fast” were found at the site of his murder. Go ahead, sir.
ISSA: I told her that, in fact, we’re going to continue regardless of what the vote is this week. We have an obligation to get to the truth about “Fast and Furious” and about those responsible, specifically related to both his death and cover up.
But having said that, mine is not automatically to look at post- contempt. Mine is to continue investigating and doing my job, along with Mr. Cummings, of a host of other abuses and failures, GSA and other scandals, because we need corrective action.
So, reading between the lines it appears that Republican leadership has not thought that far ahead – or if they have, they’re not telegraphing their next move. But putting that aside and considering what Mr. Wallace said, one has to ask, what is the point of a Contempt of Congress citation if it doesn’t have serious punitive consequences for Holder?
Moreover, while one can argue that the House should attempt to arrest Holder following a full-chamber contempt citation, will it?
George Washington University Law School Associate Dean Alan Morrison told CNN that a prosecution for criminal contempt is unlikely.
“It would look like terrible overreaching to go for criminal contempt,” Morrison said, which carries a penalty of $1,000 and up to one year in prison.
Instead, Morrison believes that it is more likely the House will pursue civil prosecution in federal court, which could eventually compel Holder to release the DOJ’s internal documents. But, again, as Wallace noted, this route could take years.
In the meantime, lawmakers and politicians will continue to use Fast and Furious as a political football, invoking it to throw potshots at the opposition.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has called the Republican investigation a “politically-motivated, taxpayer-funded, election-year fishing expedition.”
And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has said the GOP is targeting Holder because he is fighting their efforts to suppress voter turnout in November – a specious claim considering that, as Wallace pointed out, “Congress started the investigation of “Fast and Furious” in January 2011, just one month after Brian Terry was killed, and almost a year before Holder got into this voter suppression cases.”
On the other side of the aisle, Texas Gov. Rick Perry – who has nothing to do with the investigation – labeled President’s Obama’s claim of executive privilege to protect the internal DOJ documents, “Nixonian.”
“You have a president who is using his executive privilege to keep that information from Congress. If that’s not Nixonian, then I don’t know what is,” Perry said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Between the political games and the DOJ’s stonewalling, it looks as though it will take years before those responsible for Fast and Furious are brought to justice – if they’re brought at all.