WASHINGTON -- Last-minute talks to stave off a House committee vote declaring Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress broke down late Tuesday, when the attorney general failed to provide subpoenaed documents for the panel's inquiry into the flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation run by the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.
Mr. Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, met for about 20 minutes in an extraordinary bargaining session in the House majority leader's Capitol office. They emerged with Mr. Issa saying the attorney general told him that the department "would not be producing" some 1,300 pages of documents the committee had subpoenaed.
But Mr. Holder said Mr. Issa had rejected his proposal to allow the panel to "review" the documents first, which he predicted would persuade members not to go ahead with the contempt vote, now set for 10 a.m. EDT today. Mr. Issa contends that Mr. Holder made no such offer.
The constitutional standoff between the two branches of government -- the GOP-led House and the Obama administration -- likely will end with a contempt vote, as Republicans outnumber Democrats on the oversight committee by 23-17. In addition, House Republican leaders have done head counts showing that a floor vote likely would pass as well.
Committee member Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said the dispute comes down to receiving all the documents by 9:59 a.m. today, or else. But Mr. Holder said he still hopes that the committee will agree to his proposal to review the papers first.
According to congressional sources, the meeting began with Mr. Holder praising the committee's work on Fast and Furious, but then saying the investigation needed to come to an end.
Mr. Issa responded by accusing the attorney general of misleading the panel, both in testimony and letters to Congress, according to the sources.
The committee chairman has targeted his inquiry on how much the Justice Department knew about Fast and Furious, and whether Washington officials approved the gun-tracking operation in Arizona.
First Published June 20, 2012 12:00 AM