House Republicans are edging toward a vote on a Contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder, but many liberals and conservatives believe the internal Obama administration documents that Republicans want aren’t really the point.
On the left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) believes Republicans are trying to cripple the Justice Department — and its ability to enforce voting rights laws — in the months before the elections.
On the right, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) believes the Justice Department’s discredited “Fast & Furious” program — ostensibly the subject of this controversy — may have been a front for an administration conspiracy to promote gun violence in Mexico as a way to drum up support for renewing a federal assault rifle ban.
“Fast & Furious” sought to track strawman gun purchases from the point of sale in the United States back to Mexico, where law enforcement authorities thought they would be able to nail important drug lords. Was Eric Holder one of those authorities, or was he unaware of the program until the moment he halted it? That’s what Issa has been investigating and the root of the dispute over the documents
Read the Christian Science Monitor‘s account of the conspiracy theory emerging from the right here: http://bit.ly/MfIP8y. The Monitor casts a skeptical eye on the rifle-ban theory, but also notes that the administration could clear this up by being more forthcoming. And here’s the Take Action News coverage: http://takeactionnews.com/?p=665.
What about Pelosi’s charge that Republicans’ real goal is to disenfranchise minorities on Election Day?
Pelosi said Republicans were targeting Holder due to his support for efforts to overturn voter suppression laws in several states. “It is no coincidence,” she said last week. Read USA Today‘s account here: http://usat.ly/MQHzne. House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office called Pelosi’s remarks “ridiculous.”
Democrats say some states are enforcing voter identification and access laws that keep Hispanics and African Americans from voting.
Pelosi’s accusation echoes a scandal that erupted in late 2006, when President George W. Bush abruptly fired seven U.S. Attorneys. That case also led to a document showdown and eventually the resignation of an Attorney General.
One point was never confirmed: that the U.S. Attorneys were fired because they didn’t aggressively carry out a White House directive to target voter fraud that allegedly helped Democrats. Many conservatives, including then-White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, were convinced that they could prove widespread fraud in Democratic voting precincts.
And if they could prove it — or, even if they could aggressively investigate it and intimidate Democratic voters in the process — Republicans could drive down the Democratic vote in many states.
The use of U.S. Attorneys to make the case would have been an extraordinary politicalization of Justice Department resources. But it’s not in dispute that Rove and many other high-level Republican operatives believed — and continue to believe — that targeting voter fraud was a smart political play.
It’s not clear whether that played a role in the dismissal of the Attorneys. And it’s unclear whether it’s playing a role today in Issa’s investigation of Eric Holder’s Justice Department.
The charge resonates on the left, and the Republican investigation clearly diverts the Justice Department’s leaders from other responsibilities. That may be just a happy coincidence for Republicans.
One thing’s for sure: We’ve seen this movie before. Check out this headline from a June 2007 issue of Roll Call: “White House Rejects Subpoenas, Showdown Looms.” That showdown cost a lot of top Justice Department officials their jobs. Democrats say the showdown taking place today is such a political over-reach that it may cost some Republican lawmakers their jobs when voters have their say. — by Charlie Mitchell
About the Author (Author Profile)
CHARLIE MITCHELL. Editor and CEO. Mitchell has covered Washington for two decades. Days after Republicans recaptured the House in 1994, he helped launch a publication called Inside the New Congress. Mitchell went on to become the managing editor of National Journal’s Congress Daily and later editor-in-chief of Roll Call, two of the most respected congressional news outlets in Washington.