AG Holder Blasts Rep. Issa’s Contempt Recommendation as Political Theater

June 20, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calf.), one of Congress’ wealthiest members and one who still oversees his business empire, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, while attempting to represent his congressional district, has advanced his attack on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs, today voted along party lines to recommend the chamber find the attorney general in contempt of Congress for allegedly failing to provide enough documentation about the federal government's operations to curb drug smuggling and violence along the southern border, which was launched during the administration of George W. Bush.

The vote followed President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege to withhold the documents, the first time the administration has taken such action. The administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton invoked the privilege numerous times.

Issa, who as The New York Times has reported juggles “dual careers, a meshing of public and private interests rarely seen in government,” came under sharp criticism from Democratic members of the House.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) told The Times the administration was forced into invoking privilege because of the Issa-led committee’s “unreasonable insistence on pressing forward with contempt despite the attorney general’s good faith offer.”

The Department of Justice has provided Issa’s committee nearly 8,000 documents for the congressional investigation into the tactics used in the federal government’s efforts to stop violence related to drug smuggling along the southern border.

But Issa and other Republican members on the committee have feigned disbelief, arguing that much more is needed to complete their work.

Holder responding to the vote on a contempt recommendation said Issa’s actions are all about election-year politics.

Issa, Holder charged “has chosen to use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch. This divisive action does not help us fix the problems that led to this operation or previous ones and it does nothing to make any of our law enforcement agents safer.”

“It’s an election-year tactic," Holder continued, "intended to distract attention – and, as a result – has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also took the Issa committee to task for its overwrought action. Leahy said in a press statement that this is likely a dispute that “should have been resolved.”

“The [Justice] Department has made extraordinary efforts to balance the sensitivities associated with ongoing criminal investigations and the need to be responsive to congressional oversight,” Leahy continued. “The Bush Justice Department was not nearly this forthcoming and never tried to reach a reasonable accommodation in response to our oversight efforts.”

Issa would rather generate headlines about an allegedly secretive Justice Department, especially if they distract attention from his ongoing efforts to advance the needs of his business empire. 

The Times noted, “As his private wealth and public power have grown, so too has the overlap between his private and business lives, with at least some of the congressman’s government actions helping to make a rich man even richer and raising the potential for conflicts.”

Issa, The Times piece continued, “has secured millions of dollars in Congressional earmarks for road work and public work projects that promise improved traffic and other benefits to the many commercial proprieties he owns … in north San Diego. In one case, more than $80,000 in earmarks he arranged will help widen a busy thoroughfare in front of a medical plaza he bought for $16.6 million.”