WASHINGTON -- The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will move forward on Wednesday with a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to surrender documents relating to the Justice Department's botched Fast and Furious gun investigation -- a move Democrats say is purely political.
Holder and committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) met Tuesday night for about 20 minutes in a last-ditch effort by the attorney general to avert a contempt vote. Holder offered to hold a briefing with relevant House and Senate committee members and then hand over more documents -- he has already provided Congress with more than 7,600 -- that don't breach confidentiality rules. Issa refused and said he wants the documents first, by Wednesday, before even considering whether to drop the contempt vote.
"At this point, we simply do not have the documents we have repeatedly said we need to justify the postponement of a contempt vote in committee," Issa said in a statement after the meeting. “While I still hope the department will reconsider its decision so tomorrow’s vote can be postponed, after this meeting I cannot say that I am optimistic."
Issa's months-long quest for documents stems from his investigation into the Justice Department's Fast and Furious probe, a failed operation that put guns in the hands of illicit gun purchasers as a way to track Mexican smuggling cartels. Issa has been pressing Holder for documents dating from February 2011 to December 2011 to gauge how the department handled the operation. Justice Department officials maintain they have done their best to comply with Issa's subpoenas without breaking the law.
Holder told reporters after Tuesday's meeting that he met the congressman "in good faith" and made an "extraordinary offer" to resolve the matter. But Issa still wouldn't bite.
"I have to say, given the extraordinary nature of the offer that we made and given the extraordinary way that we have shared materials to date, I think we are actually involved more in political gamesmanship as opposed to trying to get the information they say they want," Holder said. "Nevertheless, we are prepared to provide these materials, to brief on these materials, to answer questions about these materials."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Holder "bent over backwards" to reach a deal and bring the contempt threats to an end, but "the goalposts keep changing."
"It appears the chairman had made up his mind before he even walked in the room," Cummings told reporters. "It's unfortunate that things have gotten to this point."
Cummings said Issa was so unreasonable about settling that, at one point in the meeting, Issa proposed that the Holder provide all the requested documents by Wednesday so committee members could "be reviewing [them] while we're voting" to hold the attorney general in contempt.
Cummings added that he didn't know what to expect at Wednesday's vote, but said he would be surprised if any Democrats voted with Republicans to hold the attorney general in contempt. Republicans outnumber Democrats 22 to 16 on the committee, so the contempt vote is likely to pass.
It remains unclear whether House Republican leaders are prepared to bring the matter to a full vote. Neither House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nor House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were in Tuesday night's meeting, and neither are likely to want to spend time on a contempt vote for fear of looking like they've lost their focus on jobs.
Spokespeople for Boehner and Cantor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
UPDATE: 9:15 p.m. -- Just in case Issa didn't realize what exactly he turned down by refusing Holder's offer, Deputy Attorney General James Cole later Tuesday night sent a letter to Issa letting him know.
"Today, we offered the Committee documents to answer the question it posed, as well as a briefing, information that would provide greater insight into the documents not being provided, and the ability to ask follow-up questions about these issues," Cole wrote. "We had hoped that you shared our interest in bringing this matter to an amicable resolution and we regret that you rejected our extraordinary proposal to do so."Copies of the letter also appeared to be sent to Cummings, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).