Bainbridge Township GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette was among two members of his party who opposed finding Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress for failing to supply subpoenaed documents for an investigation of botched gunrunning by the U.S. government.
Thursday’s 255 to 67 vote declared Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over information on a controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
On Friday, the Justice Department ruled that Holder’s decision to withhold information from Congress isn’t criminal and he won’t be prosecuted, despite the House vote. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the ruling is in line with longstanding Justice Department practice across administrations of both political parties. President Barack Obama invoked his executive privilege authority and ordered Holder not to turn over material about executive branch deliberations and internal recommendations.
“We will not prosecute an executive branch official under the contempt of Congress statute for withholding subpoenaed documents pursuant to a presidential assertion of executive privilege,” Cole wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner.
LaTourette says Holder shouldn’t have withheld the documents subpoenaed by the House Committee on Oversight and Goverment Reform. He says he voted against the criminal contempt measure because felt it would be more appropriate for Congress to secure the documents through a court order. LaTourette backed the court order approach in a separate House vote.
“By voting to ask a court to order production of the requested documents, Congress can achieve its goal of getting to the bottom of Operation Fast and Furious without turning Attorney General Eric Holder into a martyr,” said a statement from LaTourette. “There will be plenty of time to prosecute, remove from office, or force the Attorney General to resign if the facts indicate it is appropriate.”
None of the 17 Democrats who backed the measure were from Ohio. Democrats Marcia Fudge of Warrensville Heights and Marcy Kaptur of Toledo were among more than 100 Democrats who staged a walkout to protest the vote.
“Instead of wasting the time of the committee, the Department of Justice, and the American people with political distractions, the house should be addressing the issues important to the welfare of this country and its people, and that is jobs,” Fudge said on the House of Representatives floor.
Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich said he abstained from voting because the process was “tainted by partisan vitriol.”
“This takes a fundamental right of Congress and propels it into a realm of partisan action with wild charges and abuse of power,” Kucinich said.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report