The National Rifle Association injected itself last week into the stalemate over a House committee's request for Justice Department documents about Operation Fast and Furious. The NRA said it supports a contempt resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder and would track how House members vote.
WASHINGTON — Now that the politically potent National Rifle Association (NRA) is keeping score, some Democrats may join House Republicans if there’s a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress in a dispute over documents related to a botched gun-tracking operation.
The chief Democratic head counter in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, acknowledged that some in his party would consider heeding the NRA’s call for a “yes” vote.
The gun-owners association injected itself last week into the stalemate over Justice Department documents demanded by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The NRA said it supports the contempt resolution and would keep a record of how members vote.
An NRA letter to House members contended that the Obama administration “actively sought information” from Operation Fast and Furious to support its program to require dealers to report multiple rifle sales.
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The program, which began last August, imposed the requirement for sales of specifically identified long guns in four border states: Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. A federal judge upheld the requirement.
Republicans want Eric Holder to become the first attorney general to be cited by the House for contempt, because he has refused to give the Oversight and Government Reform Committee all the documents it wants related to Operation Fast and Furious.
Unless a last-minute deal is worked out, always a possibility in Congress, the contempt vote is scheduled for Thursday — the same day the Supreme Court is to announce its ruling on the legality of the nation’s health-care law.
A vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress wouldn’t send any documents to the Oversight committee and its chairman, Republican Rep. Darrell of California. President Obama has claimed executive privilege, a legal step that presidents have used to maintain secrecy of internal administration documents.
Ironically, the documents at the heart of the current argument are not directly related to the workings of Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed guns to “walk” from Arizona to Mexico in hopes they could be tracked. The department has given Issa 7,600 documents on the operation.
Rather, Issa wants internal communications from February 2011, when the administration denied knowledge of gun-walking, to the end of that year, when officials acknowledged the denial was erroneous. Those documents covered a period after Fast and Furious had been shut down.
In Fast and Furious, agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona abandoned the agency’s usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. Instead, the goal of gun-walking was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers who long had eluded prosecution and to dismantle their networks.
Gun-walking long has been barred by Justice Department policy, but federal agents in Arizona experimented with it in at least two investigations during the George W. Bush administration before Fast and Furious.
The agents in Arizona lost track of several hundred weapons in Operation Fast and Furious. The low point of the operation came in Arizona in 2010, when U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a firefight with armed Mexican bandits and two guns traced to the operation were found at the scene.