WASHINGTON — A House committee looking into a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona announced Monday that it will consider holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress next week for failing to produce some documents the panel is seeking.
The committee has scheduled a contempt vote for June 20.
To date, the Justice Department has produced 7,600 pages of material to the committee.
Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says Congress needs to examine records regarding the Justice Department's conduct following public disclosures in early 2011 that hundreds of guns illicitly purchased at gun shops on the U.S. side of the border wound up in Mexico, many of them at crime scenes.
The Justice Department says many of the documents being sought deal with open criminal investigations and prosecutions — matters relating to sensitive law enforcement activities that cannot be disclosed.
"The Justice Department is out of excuses," House Speaker John Boehner said Monday. "Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into Fast and Furious," the name of the flawed law enforcement operation.
Issa said Congress has an obligation "to investigate unanswered questions about attempts to smear whistleblowers, failures by Justice Department officials to be truthful and candid with the congressional investigation and the reasons for the significant delay in acknowledging reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious."
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that "from the beginning, Chairman Issa has distorted the facts, ignored testimony and flung inaccurate accusations at the attorney general and others, and this latest move fits within that tired political playbook that has so many Americans disillusioned with Washington."
In a letter to Issa, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the move toward a contempt vote was premature because there have been productive staff discussions in two meetings over the past few weeks.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the attorney general has appeared eight times on Capitol Hill where he has undergone questioning about the problems in Fast and Furious.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, whose investigation first turned up problems in Operation Fast and Furious, said the action by the House committee "is straightforward and necessary. Contempt is the only tool Congress has to enforce a subpoena."