Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today sharply criticized the decision by the Republican-led Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which she serves, to schedule a contempt of Congress vote for Attorney General Eric Holder for allegedly failing to comply with the committee's subpoena in connection with Operation Fast and Furious. Norton said, "The contempt citation is not only wrong on the merits but, more seriously, wholly misses the point of the Fast and Furious tragedy, and gives every appearance of political programming for an election year." She said that next week's business meeting urgently needs to combat the gun trafficking that accounted for Fast and Furious by marking up the long-pending Stop Gun Trafficking and Strengthen Law Enforcement Act of 2011 (H.R.2554), which Norton has cosponsored.
"The subpoena seeks documents that are either sealed by federal law, or are part of an ongoing criminal investigation, and otherwise seeks to facilitate an ongoing fishing expedition for whatever can be found, with election-year politics in mind," Norton said. "Yet, the gun trafficking that led to the killing of the border patrol agent by Mexican cartel thugs goes without so much as a hearing. This same committee has spent a full year going after the Attorney General while steadfastly refusing to fill a hole in the federal law that allows the gun running and straw purchases that led to Fast and Furious. The tragic death of the federal agent remains unaddressed because of virtual instructions from the gun lobby that the gun trafficking issue never see the light of day. The time is long past due for the committee to turn its attention to lessons learned and proceed to a remedy."
The Congresswoman said that the committee was fully justified in conducting vigorous oversight following Fast and Furious. However, courts have never enforced partisan subpoenas, whether from Republicans or Democrats, and no court has ever enforced a contempt citation against a Cabinet official. Norton wonders if the House leadership, therefore, would put its credibility on the line by bringing a contempt citation to the House floor when there is no record of courts being dragged into partisan subpoenas.
Norton said that Democrats and Republicans on the committee agree that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), under both the Bush and Obama administrations, made a tragic mistake in allowing a "gunwalking" sting even though they were trying to enable a successful prosecution, and that the killing of the federal agent tragically points straight to the fact that law enforcement officials do not have the tools they need to stop the gun trafficking within the United States and to Mexico, which has caused unprecedented carnage on both sides of the border. The committee has spent much of its investigative resources in the 112th Congress on Fast and Furious, but it has spent no time working on the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from its investigation: the need for new laws to combat gun trafficking, Norton said. Due to the influence of the gun lobby, there is no federal anti-trafficking statute, the penalties for "straw purchasers" are far too light to act as a deterrent or to devote prosecutorial resources to, and there is no requirement that gun dealers report bulk sales of assault weapons.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has produced documents and made officials available in response to the committee's subpoena. However, the Republicans on the committee refused to believe that DOJ cannot provide all the documents requested without adversely affecting ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions or violating federal law.