Attorney General Eric Holder was held in criminal contempt of Congress on Thursday on a 255 to 67 vote. Holder is the first Attorney General in U.S. history to be held in contempt by a full house vote. On a separate vote, members of Congress voted 258 to 95 to approve a civil contempt charge against Holder.
“I don’t take this matter lightly, and frankly hoped it would never come to this,” he said from the floor. “The House is focused on jobs and the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold.”
Republicans sought to hold Holder in contempt because his office refused to turn over documents related to a gun-tracking operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
Here is a breakdown on what “Fast And Furious” is and the events that lead to the historic vote, according to the Washington Post:
The conflict between the Justice Department and House Republicans centers on a particular set of documents that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed from the Justice Department in October as part of its investigation into Fast and Furious.
The operation, named after the popular movie series, was run out of the ATF’s Phoenix division, with the legal backing of the U.S. attorney in Phoenix. As part of the operation, ATF agents purposefully did not interdict more than 2,000 weapons they suspected of being purchased at Arizona gun shops by illegal buyers known as “straw purchasers”; agents hoped to later track them to a Mexican drug cartel.
While conducting Fast and Furious, ATF lost track of most of the firearms, some of which have been found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States. Two of the guns connected to the operation were found at a site in the Arizona desert where Terry was killed.
Last year, a Justice Department official told lawmakers in a letter that ATF had not ever “sanctioned” or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico. Ten months later, the Justice Department withdrew the letter, acknowledging the botched operation.
That episode has heightened suspicions among Republican lawmakers, who have demanded that the department hand over records of any deliberations it had about Fast and Furious after the Feb. 4, 2011, letter.
What Republicans are not saying is that Justice officials have turned over more than 7,600 documents and that Holder has testified nine times to congressional committees during the past 14 months. And the 17 Democrats who voted across the aisle have been endorsed in the past by the National Rifle Association, according to the Washington Post.