WASHINGTON (June 28, 2012)--The U.S. House approved a precedent-setting resolution Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress, marking the first time a sitting Cabinet member has been held in contempt.
A number of Democrats boycotted Thursday's vote.
Republicans pushed through the resolution because Holder did not turn over documents related to a botched gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants Justice Department records from a 10-month period after February 2011.
That month, the department initially denied guns were allowed to be purchased in Arizona and be taken to Mexico.
In early December that year, the department acknowledged the assertion was wrong.
House Speaker John Boehner now turns the matter over to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia who’s required only to take the contempt case to a grand jury, and not necessarily to prosecute it.
Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor that carries penalties ranging from fines of $100 to $100,000 and jail sentences from 30 days to 12 months.
A separate vote will be held to hold the attorney general in civil contempt.
After the vote, Holder said that Rep. Darrell Issa, who leads the House committee investigating a flawed gun-smuggling investigation, and others have focused on politics over public safety.
The attorney general says that when concerns about Operation Fast and Furious first came to light, he took action and ordered an independent investigation into what happened.
That probe by the Justice Department's inspector general is under way.
Holder blames Issa and his supporters for the dispute that led to the contempt vote.
Issa subpoenaed documents and the attorney general said he made an offer to settle the dispute that Issa rebuffed.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said, however, that Holder’s “lack of cooperation…is a clear sign of disrespect for the law.”
“Today’s bipartisan votes to find the attorney general in contempt of Congress are a clear sign that we will not tolerate blatant disregard for the rule of law,” he said.