WASHINGTON – The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on Thursday to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his refusal to hand over documents relating to the failed gun-walking operation Fast and Furious.
The vote was 257-67, with more than 100 Democrats declining to vote.
Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, dozens of Democratic lawmakers walked out in protest prior to the vote.
Holder is the first sitting Cabinet official in U.S. history to be cited by Congress for contempt.
The contempt resolution emerged last week from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating Fast and Furious.
Democrats denounced the resolution as politically motivated, but Republicans insisted they are only trying to get to the truth.
While the Justice Department provided the panel with thousands of documents on the botched operation, the Obama administration asserted executive privilege over some of the materials sought by the committee.
Fast and Furious was a federal undercover sting that allowed some 2,000 weapons to be smuggled into Mexico by straw purchasers allegedly working for drug cartels, a tactic known as “gun-walking.”
The operation was launched in 2009 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Phoenix office and shut down in late 2010 after guns traced to the program were linked to the killing in Arizona of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
President Barack Obama’s administration has vehemently denied any involvement in Fast and Furious and said it only learned about the operation after it was shut down.
The idea behind Fast and Furious was to track the weapons purchased by illicit buyers to powerful drug traffickers in Mexico, but once it got underway ATF agents realized they had no dependable way to keep track of the guns, which eventually began appearing at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
Guns traced to Fast and Furious appeared at more than 100 crime scenes in Mexico and two were found at the location where Border Patrol agent Terry was killed in December 2010 while trying to arrest a group of armed suspects.
The congressional contempt citation is unlikely to result in criminal charges against Holder, according to legal analysts, who said a parallel civil suit to force the government to hand over the documents could drag on for years. EFE