The GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee's threat to bring contempt charges against Attorney General Eric Holder are merely the tail end of the GOP's endless ploy to harass, embarrass, and ultimately weaken President Obama. The GOP always saw Holder as the weak link in the Obama administration; the one appointee who had potentially the most baggage, and the one most easily to taint and tarnish, with the aim that some of the taint would rub off on Obama. From the start, Obama knew that Holder could be a likely target of GOP attacks and tried to defuse them. He quietly asked key Senate Republicans whether they would try and delay or block Holder's appointment. At the time there was no likelihood that the GOP could win a fight over Holder's appointment. They didn't have the votes. But that didn't stop GOP congressional leaders from squawking about Holder during his confirmation hearing.
He was grilled hard on green lighting a handful of controversial Clinton pardons as Clinton's Deputy Attorney General, for allegedly engaging in special favoritism toward telecom giant Global Crossing when the company was in financial throes in 2002, and for enforcing a court order to send under age Cuban refugee Elián González back to Cuba in 1999.
Holder drew more fire for his role in approving the clemency request for 16 members of the radical Puerto Rican independence group FALN, convicted of a string of terrorist bombings and murders. The FBI, Bureau of Prisons and U.S. state attorneys opposed clemency for the 16. Holder refused to comment on what part he played in the clemency action. This charge against him also went nowhere.
Holder was confirmed. However, the GOP's insinuations of duplicity and wrong doing by him were an early warning sign that Holder would continue to be the GOP's whipping boy surrogate for Obama. If they could discredit, taint, and tarnish Holder for even the most picayune act, it would be another slap at Obama. The only thing that the GOP lacked to dump Holder back on the hot seat was the votes. In 2010, it got them with the GOP House takeover.
House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa led the GOP charge. The issue is Holder's alleged cover-up and defiance of the committee's demand to know what Holder did or didn't do about the botched ATF's Mexican gun sting operation "fast and furious" -- in which thousands of guns were supposedly supplied to Mexican drug cartel traffickers. The gunning down of a Border Patrol agent in December 2010 and in which the illegal firearms were linked to dumped Holder even more squarely on the GOP hot seat.
The ATF gun sting was not Holder's sole creation. Former President George W. Bush's DOJ ran a similar gun sting a year before Obama took office. The program resumed in 2010 with no evidence that Holder knew all the details or the problems with the sting operation. Many of which as he testified were not disclosed to him by operatives. The program ultimately was not a DOJ operation but a local law enforcement program that should have drawn fire but instead quickly became a relentless partisan crusade against Holder.
In Holder's nine appearances before the House and Senate Committees he has been harangued, badgered, and threatened with censorship, a demand for his resignation, and now a contempt citation. Holder has repeatedly made a congressional and public mea culpa and acknowledged that mistakes were made, called the ATF's tactics "unacceptable," turned over volumes of documents to congressional investigators, and offered to try to work through a court order that sealed the release of wiretaps on the sting operation. The fact that Bush's DOJ routinely withheld sensitive documents from congressional investigators meant little. The GOP sniffed blood and upped the ante. It also pounds him for allegedly trying to cover up national security leaks to the news media, and for trying to stop Florida's GOP governor and state officials from purging thousands of voters from the rolls.
No matter how many facts Holder cites to bolster his case that he didn't know or certainly approve any illicit doings in the sting operation, or any of the other issues that he's accused of malfeasance on. The issue of his stewardship at the Justice Department won't go away. The stakes are simply too high for the GOP. The longer GOP congressional leaders can keep Holder on the public hot seat, the more chance the GOP has of embedding the bogus notion that the Obama administration engages in a massive cover-up of its screw-ups, misdeeds, and unethical practices. Or at the very least, impugn Obama's judgment in picking his political appointees.
The GOP's long running witch hunt of Holder is crass partisan politics. But with a bitterly contested presidential election looming with the White House the grand prize, the GOP will continue to hold Holder and by extension President Obama in contempt.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.