For the first time in U.S. history, a United States Attorney General is found to be in contempt of Congress.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives in a 256-67 votes (with 17 Democrats joining the Republicans), voted to hold the Obama administration’s AG Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the Fast & Furious Mexican gun-running operation that resulted in the deaths of Mexicans as well as U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Stephen Dinan reports for The Washington Times, June 28, 2012:
The House on Thursday cited Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for contempt of Congress in a historic vote weighted with political significance, though it does little to break the stalemate over his decision to withhold documents over the Justice Department’s actions in a botched gun-walking operation.
The 256-67 vote amounted to a political spanking for Mr. Holder and President Obama, and 17 Democrats joined with Republicans in demanding the documents be released. Most Democrats, however, walked out in protest of the vote.
It marks the first time an attorney general has been held in contempt by a chamber.
But the White House dismissed the proceedings as a sideshow, and the vote does nothing to break the impasse, though it further poisoned feelings in an already bitterly divided chamber.
“No Justice Department is above the law, and no Justice Department is above the Constitution,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Democrats pleaded with the Republicans to slow down the proceedings, saying the oversight committee, led by Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, has done a shoddy job in putting together its investigation.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, even introduced a resolution demanding that the House reprimand Mr. Issa for partisanship and accusing him of having “engaged in a witch hunt.”
Many Democrats walked out of the contempt vote in protest, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the vote was a black eye for the Republicans.
“Just when you think you have seen it all. Just when you think they couldn’t possibly go any further over the edge, they come up with something like this,” she said. “What is happening here is shameful.”
Read the rest of the news article here.
So what does “in contempt of Congress” means?
Here’s what The Free Dictionary says:
An act of deliberate disobedience or disregard for the laws, regulations, or decorum of a public authority, such as a court or legislative body.
Individuals may be cited for contempt when they disobey an order, fail to comply with a request, tamper with documents, withhold evidence, interrupt proceedings through their actions or words, or otherwise defy a public authority or hold it up to ridicule and disrespect. The laws and rules governing contempt have developed in a piecemeal fashion over time and give wide discretion to judges and legislative leaders in determining both what constitutes contempt and how it is punished.
Contempt of Congress
The Constitution does not explicitly grant Congress the power to coerce cooperation from individuals or to punish acts of disobedience or disrespect through contempt proceedings. However, the power was discussed at the Constitutional Convention and was implied in the Constitution. In 1795, Congress used the power of contempt for the first time when it arrested, tried, and punished a man accused of bribing members of the House of Representatives. Then Congress acted on its own authority—subsequently called the Self-Help power, which grants Congress the right to compel testimony and punish disobedience without the involvement of a court or other government body if the individual’s actions obstruct the legislative process.
I just got the names of the 17 Democrats who did the right thing, from my friend Jay, the Democrat lawyer. This is his message attached to the list: “Here is the democrat honor role. The rest are apparently eating bath salts and cannabis!”
Democrats who voted for contempt:
Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa.
Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla.
Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa
Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky.
Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa.
Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y.
Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.
Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah
Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.
Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.