In a protest against the handling of the investigation of the Fast and Furious Operation by both the White House and congressional Republicans, Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) today cast a vote of "present" on the resolution recommending Attorney General Eric Holder be held in contempt of Congress and condemned the Fast and Furious program as a disastrous and deadly mistake.
"In casting my vote today, I want to send a message that I believe Washington still has not received: partisan battles are not a substitute for progress," Rep. Lipinski said. "When both sides seek to intensify conflicts rather than find a way forward, crafting solutions to pressing problems becomes that much more difficult. It's time for the parties to stop focusing on what is to their political advantage and start focusing on what they can accomplish together for the American people.
"The gun-trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious that was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms on the U.S.-Mexico border was a disastrous mistake in both conception and execution. The fact that several of the guns that federal agents declined to confiscate in their efforts to build a larger gun-trafficking case were found at the scene of the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry is profoundly disturbing and deeply regrettable. This program put both law enforcement and the public at risk. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was right to launch a vigorous investigation of Fast and Furious.
"I also have concerns about the decision to invoke executive privilege in response to the Committee's request for certain Justice Department documents, although these documents date not from the period during which Fast and Furious was conceived and executed but from the period during which the Department was responding to Congressional and media inquiries. I believe it is questionable whether executive privilege extends to these documents. As someone who used to teach American government, I am especially aware that invoking executive privilege in such a case may risk setting a precedent that will undermine Congress' ability to conduct oversight and investigations of the executive branch. Furthermore, despite the invocation of executive privilege, I believe that the Attorney General could have been more forthcoming with the subpoenaed documents, either producing them to the Committee, or for in camera review at the DOJ offices if documents were too sensitive to release. Some of these documents may fall into protected classes, such as those under seal by a court, but the DOJ's reluctance to release all documents after February 4, 2011 is questionable. More time is needed to examine the Administration's claim.
"But House Republicans are not willing to give any more time. They appear to be intent on provoking a partisan battle by rushing ahead with this contempt vote at a time when it is more bipartisan cooperation that is sorely needed. Attorney General Holder has testified nine times about Fast and Furious, produced 7600 documents, and expressed an interest in reaching an agreement to produce more documents. And a sitting cabinet member has never been held in contempt by the House of Representatives before.
"Rather than voting "yes' and escalating this dispute and moving toward uncharted waters, or voting "no' and sending a message of support for the Attorney General's actions up until this point, my "present' vote sends a message to both sides: sit down and seek a resolution that addresses all legitimate concerns, and preserve a proper check and balance in federal government."