By Rachel Brody |
Last Thursday, the House took the unprecedented step of holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. This was a terrible abuse of the Congress' contempt power.
Most Americans are deeply concerned about the problem of thousands of guns being smuggled south of our border and the horrendous level of violence they are contributing to in Mexico. But the action that the House took will shed no light on these problems or provide any solutions.
Instead, the dispute between the branches of government stems from a botched federal investigation into firearm trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border called Fast and Furious.
In that operation, federal law enforcement used the scandalous tactic of letting guns "walk" in hopes of tracking them to cartels. Unfortunately, federal officials failed to follow the guns across the border. We have learned that the Bush administration tried the same tactic in an operation called Wide Receiver—with similar results. Some guns from Fast and Furious were among those found where a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, tragically lost his life.
This certainly merits vigorous congressional oversight. But after 16 months, 7,600 documents and nine hearings with the Attorney General, the investigation has become unmoored. It is no longer an examination of what went wrong in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives under both administrations. Rather, it has devolved into the latest partisan attack on the Obama presidency.
Attorney General Holder bent over backwards to provide complete information to the committee, only refusing Chairman Darrell Issa's demands after he asked for materials such as wiretaps, grand jury materials, and internal deliberative communications, which the Justice Department is prohibited by law and privilege from providing.
So why did the House move forward and vote to hold the attorney general in contempt? Because the GOP leadership won't take yes for an answer. It wants—and needs—a fight. This is exactly why Congress has a thirteen percent approval rating—misusing Congress's contempt powers simply for a partisan exercise.
What will happen when Congress actually needs to use the contempt power for a legitimate purpose? Will anyone still recognize it?
Sadly, we know how this will all end, because we have seen it before. The GOP majority will now go to court to obtain the documents, settle after months or years of costly litigation, and receive exactly the same documents Attorney General Holder has already offered to provide.
We will have wasted time and money, and done nothing to stem the flow of illegal arms south of our border.
About Adam Schiff Democratic U.S. Representative from California
Judson Phillips Founder of Tea Party Nation
Chris Cox Executive Director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action
Hilary O. Shelton Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for the NAACP