North Country Congressman Bill Owens voted on Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of court for withholding documents related to the botched federal "Fast and Furious" gun-tracing operation.
Owens, from Plattsburgh, was one of 16 Democrats who voted with the House of Representatives' Republican majority to pass the bill.
"This, to me, is a transparency issue," Owens told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh. "We need to make sure that we have proper oversight."
Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh
(Enterprise file photo)
Matt Doheny, a Watertown Republican who will face Owens in the Nov. 6 election, called on the congressman to go one step further - to demand that Holder resign.
"The attorney general is not above the law," Doheny said in a prepared statement. "He should lose his job for overseeing an operation in which illegal guns were 'walked' across the U.S.-Mexican border, lost and then used in a senseless murder. The president's use of executive privilege to cover up Mr. Holder's grave mistakes is shameful and a blatant abuse of executive power."
GOP wins contempt fight, but legal dispute looms
By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - House Republicans have won a historic political fight to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, but the GOP likely is still a long way from obtaining documents it wants in an investigation of a bungled gun-tracking operation.
The road leading to a possible lawsuit by the House was filled with emotion Thursday. More than 100 Democrats walked up an aisle and out of the chamber to boycott the first of two contempt votes, saying Republicans were more interested in shameful election-year politics than documents.
Republicans demanded the documents for an ongoing investigation, but their arguments focused more on the need for closure for the family of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Two guns from the gun-tracking operation called Fast and Furious were found near his body after a shootout in Arizona.
Democrats promised closure as well, but said a less-partisan Republican investigation - not contempt resolutions - was the only way to get it.
Adding to the emotion of the day, the family of the slain agent issued a statement backing the Republicans.
"The Terry family takes no pleasure in the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder. Such a vote should not have been necessary. The Justice Department should have released the documents related to Fast and Furious months ago," the statement said.
It all happened on the day that President Barack Obama's health care law survived in the Supreme Court, prompting some Democrats to speculate that the votes were scheduled to be overwhelmed by news stories about the ruling.
About five hours after the court ruled, with news sites flooded with information about the health care ruling, the House voted 255-67 to declare Holder in criminal contempt - an action that could lead to criminal prosecution but probably won't.
The matter goes to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who works under Holder.
In previous contempt cases, federal prosecutors in the nation's capital have refused to act on congressional contempt citations against members of their own administration.
A second vote of 258-95 held Holder in civil contempt and allows the House to bring a civil lawsuit in an effort to force him to turn over the documents.
In past cases, courts have been reluctant to settle disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government.
The issue became more complicated when Obama invoked a broad form of executive privilege, a legal position that is designed to keep private certain communications of executive branch agencies.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is conducting the investigation and subpoenaed the documents, will consult with the House counsel's office about a court challenge to the administration's decision not to cooperate, committee spokesman Frederick Hill said.
Thursday's debate was about Justice Department documents written after Fast and Furious was shut down. The subpoena covered a 10-month period from February 2011, when the Justice Department denied that guns purchased in the U.S. were allowed to "walk" across the border into Mexico, to early December 2011 when the department acknowledged the earlier assertion was in error.