The House of Representatives voted to make history on Thursday, June 28.
By a vote of 255 to 67 — with 108 democrats walking off the House floor in protest — Congress held Eric H. Holder, the first African American Attorney General, in contempt of Congress. The vote was taken after he withheld documents that Republican lawmakers demanded as part of an investigation into a flawed gun running operation.
Member after member denounced the vote as a sham. “This is a terrible day for the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We are declaring, by walking out, we are not participating.”
Holder was the first sitting attorney general to be held in contempt of court in U.S. history, and the first sitting Cabinet member to ever have been held in contempt of Congress.
The vote took place after weeks of partisan bickering over Holder’s decision not to turn over a set of documents connected to “Fast and Furious,” an operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, where agents watched as more than 2,000 guns hit the streets. Two guns tied to the operation were found at the scene of the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
Holder described the vote as “the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year.”
Justice officials said they have cooperated with the investigation, turning over 7,600 documents relating to the weapons operation and making available several senior officials to testify. Holder has already testified nine times in the past 14 months on the matter.
While the Republican led House was expected to sanction Holder, it is not clear whether the vote will get Republicans the documents they requested. In the coming days, lawmakers have vowed to press criminal charges against the attorney general. But that decision will ultimately be made by the U.S. attorney for the District, Ronald C. Machen Jr., who reports to Holder.
The investigation, backed by the National Rifle Association, was widely seen as a plot to embarrass Holder and the White House.
Although most Democrats left before the vote, 17 sided with Republicans to find Holder in contempt. Most of those Democrats have been endorsed by the NRA, which announced that it planned to track how members voted in determining endorsements.