H.Res. Contempt: Resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with a subpoena duly issued by the Committee on Oversight and Gove

H.Res. Contempt

Resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with a subpoena duly issued by the Committee on Oversight and Gove

Sponsor
Sen. Bernard Sanders

Date
June 28, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

On Thursday, June 28, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H. Res. __ and H.Res. 706 under a rule.  The first resolution was reported from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform by a vote of 23-17 and its report was filed in the House on June 22, 2012.  The second resolution, dealing with civil contempt, was introduced on June 26, 2012, by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

The rule would provide 50 minutes of debate equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform or their respective designees and would provide one motion to refer at the conclusion of debate if offered by Rep. Dingell of Michigan, which shall be debatable for 10 minutes equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent.  The rule would also provide a motion to recommit.

For additional information on contempt of Congress, see this policy brief issued last week.

Bill Summary

According to H. Res. ___ House Report 112-546, "The Department of Justice has refused to comply with congressional subpoenas related to Operation Fast and Furious, an Administration initiative that allowed around two thousand firearms to fall into the hands of drug cartels and may have led to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The consequences of the lack of judgment that permitted such an operation to occur are tragic.

"The Department's refusal to work with Congress to ensure that it has fully complied with the Committee's efforts to compel the production of documents and information related to this controversy is inexcusable and cannot stand. Those responsible for allowing Fast and Furious to proceed and those who are preventing the truth about the operation from coming out must be held accountable for their actions.

"Having exhausted all available options in obtaining compliance, the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee recommends that Congress find the Attorney General in contempt for his failure to comply with the subpoena issued to him.

Background

According to House Report 112-546, “an important corollary to the powers expressly granted to Congress by the Constitution is the implicit responsibility to perform rigorous oversight of the Executive Branch.  The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized this Congressional power on numerous occasions.  For example, in McGrain v. Daugherty, the Court held that ‘the power of inquiry—with process to enforce it—is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function … A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change, and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information—which not infrequently is true--recourse must be had to others who do possess it.’

“Both the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-601), which directed House and Senate Committees to ‘exercise continuous watchfulness’ over Executive Branch programs under their jurisdiction, and the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (P.L. 91-510), which authorized committees to ‘review and study, on a continuing basis, the application, administration and execution’ of laws, codify the oversight powers of Congress.

“The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is a standing committee of the House of Representatives, duly established pursuant to the Rules of the House of Representatives, which are adopted pursuant to the Rulemaking Clause of the Constitution.

“House rule XI specifically authorizes the Committee to ‘require, by subpoena or otherwise, the attendance and testimony of such witnesses and the production of such books, records, correspondence, memoranda, papers, and documents as it considers necessary.’

“The Committee’s investigation into actions by senior officials in the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in designing, implementing, and supervising the execution of Operation Fast and Furious, and subsequently providing false denials to Congress, is being undertaken pursuant to the authority delegated to the Committee under House Rule X as described above.

“The oversight and legislative purposes of the investigations are (1) to examine and expose any possible malfeasance, abuse of authority, or violation of existing law on the part of the executive branch with regard to the conception and implementation of Operation Fast and Furious, and (2) based on the results of the investigation, to assess whether the conduct uncovered may warrant additions or modifications to federal law and to make appropriate legislative recommendations.

“In particular, the Committee’s investigation has highlighted the need to obtain information that will aid Congress in considering whether a revision of the statutory provisions governing the approval of federal wiretap applications may be necessary.  The major breakdown in the process that occurred with respect to the Fast and Furious wiretap applications necessitates careful examination of the facts before proposing a legislative remedy.  Procedural improvements may need to be codified in statute to mandate immediate action in the face of highly objectionable information relating to operational tactics and details contained in future applications.

“The Committee’s investigation has called into question the ability of ATF to carry out its statutory mission and the ability of the Department of Justice to adequately supervise it.  The information sought is needed to consider legislative remedies to restructure ATF as needed.”

Cost

CBO did not have a cost estimate at press time.