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Updated Jun 28, 2012, 2:58 pm Originally posted Jun 28, 2012, 12:45 pm
Republican members of the U.S. House, joined by a few Democrats, voted 255-67 on Thursday to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress in the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, the botched “gun-walking” operation by federal agents in Arizona.
Holder was held in criminal contempt in that vote.
By a 258-95 vote, held later Thursday, the House also held Holder in civil contempt.
Dozens Democrats walked out during the first vote, including U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. His fellow Arizona Democratic Reps. Ron Barber and Ed Pastor voted against the resolution. All five state Republican House members voted for contempt.
The criminal contempt vote "does nothing to further the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious," Barber said in a news release. Barber voted to hold Holder in civil contempt, while Grijalva voted against that resolution.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined the walkout, while seventeen members of the party joined the majority in the criminal vote. Two GOP representatives voted against charging Holder with criminal contempt, defying an announcement by the National Rifle Association that the gun-rights group would score the vote when rating congressmen.
The vote marks the first time in history that the chief of the Justice Department has been held in contempt of Congress.
The criminal charge will be referred to Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, an Obama appointee who is unlikely to pursue action in the case.
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The civil charge sets the stage for a suit by the House Oversight Committee, chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa, asking a court to order the turnover of Justice Department documents related to the case.
Barber called that move "warranted."
"The administration should share the requested documents with Congress and action in federal court is a prudent way to remove this critical law enforcement debate from the realm of politics," he said.
The White House has asserted executive privilege over the documents, and refused to release them to the committee.
Democrats have called Issa's investigation a political witchhunt.
The Fast and Furious investigation came to light after weapons related to the gun-smuggling probe were found at the scene of the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in late 2010.
"Brian Terry and his family deserve better than a partisan fight based on election year politicking. They deserve answers to their questions about his death," Barber said, calling the congressional probe "a partisan undertaking, in which requests by minority members for witnesses and hearings were rejected."
A spokesman for the Terry family said they take no pleasure in the vote.
"Such a vote should not have been necessary. The Justice Department should have released the documents related to Fast and Furious months ago," said Terry's cousin, Robert Heyer.
"Eric Holder’s refusal to do so and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege have stood in the way of justice," said Heyer, head of the Brian Terry Foundation, which has allied itself with Issa's probe.
A House committee voted along party lines last Wednesday to send the contempt case to the entire House.
TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.