A Republican-controlled House committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Justice Department documents - even after President Obama executed an executive privilege to protect the confidentiality of the documents.
The party-line vote was 23-17 and will likely go next to the full House, which is to vote next week unless there is some resolution in the meantime.
The last Cabinet member to be cited by a congressional committee for contempt was Attorney General Janet Reno in President Bill Clinton's administration.
The recommendation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next will go to the full House for a vote. Speaker John Boehner's office said that vote would occur next week, unless a resolution concerning the documents is worked out before then.
In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a Justice Department official said Obama's executive privilege applies to documents that explain how the department learned there were problems with the investigation called 'Operation Fast and Furious.'
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole addressed Issa in a letter on Wednesday morning, saying:
"We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the Committee's concerns and to accommodate the Committee's legitimate oversight interests regarding Operation Fast and Furious...Although we are deeply disappointed that the Committee appears intent on proceeding with a contempt vote, the Department remains willing to work with the Committee to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues."
Presidents have the right to invoke executive privilege to preserve the confidentiality of information and since 1980, presidents have used that privilege 25 times.
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