The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted Wednesday to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his refusal to hand over documents relating to failed gun-walking operation Fast and Furious.
The 48-page resolution will go to the full House for consideration.
The vote, which followed six hours of often-acrimonious debate, broke down along party lines, as all 23 Republicans on the committee supported the motion and the 17 Democrats stood united in opposition.
In a last-minute move to forestall the measure, the Obama administration asserted executive privilege over the documents sought by the panel, but Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) refused to postpone the session.
Holder denounced the vote to hold him in contempt.
"In recent months, the Justice Department has made unprecedented accommodations to respond to information requests by Chairman Issa about misguided law enforcement tactics that began in the previous administration and allowed illegal guns to be taken into Mexico," the attorney general said in a statement.
"Simply put, any claims that the Justice Department has been unresponsive to requests for information are untrue," he said.
Since the start of the investigation, Holder said, "Chairman Issa and certain members of the Committee have made unsubstantiated allegations first, then scrambled for facts to try to justify them later."
Lawmakers, according to Issa, have only received a small portion of the documents they have requested and what they have obtained has been so thoroughly edited that it does not provide any information.
The attorney general says the Justice Department has delivered some 6,400 pages of documents related to Fast and Furious, a federal undercover sting that allowed some 2,000 weapons to be smuggled into Mexico by straw purchasers allegedly working for drug cartels, a tactic known as "gun-walking."
The operation was launched in 2009 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Phoenix office and shut down in late 2010 after guns traced to the program were linked to the killing in Arizona of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
President Barack Obama's administration has vehemently denied any involvement in Fast and Furious and said it only learned about the operation after it was shut down.
The idea behind Fast and Furious was to track the weapons purchased by illicit buyers to powerful drug traffickers in Mexico, but once it got underway ATF agents realized they had no dependable way to keep track of the guns, which eventually began appearing at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
Guns traced to Fast and Furious appeared at more than 100 crime scenes in Mexico and two were found at the location where Border Patrol agent Terry was killed in December 2010 while trying to arrest a group of armed suspects. EFE