Higgins: Careful contemptWritten by Tim Higgins | | email@example.com
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted last Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman would like all of Congress to vote on this, as Holder was not exactly forthcoming in his testimony before the committee. His refusal to turn over thousands of pages of additional documents under congressional subpoena was considered adding insult to injury.
Now for those of you who’ve been sleeping under a rock for a while, this all has to do with an operation that the Justice Department ran called Fast and Furious. In it, the DoJ hoped to track hundreds of weapons it supplied to key members of the Mexican drug cartels. Unfortunately, unlike a similar operations run by the previous administration, guns actually made it across the border this time and the DoJ lost track of them. Two of those weapons were later recovered in an incident where two Border Patrol agents were killed. When asked about it, the Justice Department in February of 2011 denied that the program even existed. Ten months later they had to retract that statement. For some strange reason, the committee found the original denial and later admission of its existence, along with stacks of largely redacted documents rather troubling (I know, go figure).
(I’m sure that the committee’s Republican majority looked past a potential Democratic scandal in an election year.)
After the committee’s vote, Holder asked the White House to declare that the information demanded under subpoena was unavailable under “executive privilege.” This privilege would allow the administration to withhold such information as privileged White House communications vital to national security.
Now the DoJ previously asserted under oath that F&F was an internally controlled operation done without White House involvement, which makes the privilege argument seem ludicrous. They must now decide whether to withdraw the request, assert it and admit that they lied in saying the White House didn’t know about F&F, or continue to attempt to make this the fault of Republicans for refusing to let it go away.
Far more interesting to me however is the concept of contempt as it relates to Fast and Furious and to Congress. If for example, the allegations that the weapons were allowed to cross the border in order to have their later use promote stricter gun regulation are true, then the DoJ truly merits contempt and not for merely playing fast and loose when testifying before a congressional committee. One could even conclude that such a truth would necessitate the department prosecuting its members or itself.
With the potential for a Supreme Court ruling on what’s commonly known as Obamacare this week however, it’s a little tricky knowing when a contempt of Congress vote could take place, and whether it’s before a deal is worked out with the DoJ, and now the White House. While we’re casting a bit of contempt around however, I’d like to cast my own vote for holding this legislative body itself in contempt.
This after all, is the group of lawmakers who passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act without reading it; and now find themselves in the dubious position of playing second fiddle to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, whose word will become law with or without congressional approval or oversight, without the possibility of presidential veto, and without the option of review by the courts. This is likewise the Congress whose math skills had a $61 billion dollar budget cut in 2011 turn into a mere $352 million in the blink of an eye; and had the government spending more money than in the previous year in spite of the cut. Even such epic failure pales in comparison to the Senate, which hasn’t passed a budget of any kind in more than 1,154 days (over three years).
This is a group that knowingly does nothing as Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt in the name of political expediency and their own re-election efforts. It’s a group that talks about helping the financial plight of the middle class while heaping legislative restrictions on them. It’s a group that’s turned national politics into little more than a sporting event where keeping score on the points accumulated by the two teams has become far more important than those of us in the stands.
Fast and Furious isn’t the shining moment for Holder’s Justice Department (come to think of it, I’m not sure he’s had one), and his refusal to own up and move on does nothing to enhance his or the department’s reputation. Congress however, should be careful of the contempt in which they seek to hold others (legal or otherwise), lest they be held to the same standard of evasiveness, misjudgment and incompetence that they chose to hold others to.