The GOP-led House voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to provide key information pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious, making Holder the first sitting Cabinet member to be held in contempt.
The vote was 255-67, with 17 Democrats breaking ranks to side with Republicans in favor of contempt.
The vote follows a roughly 16-month investigation by the chamber’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the failed gun-running sting known as Fast and Furious -- run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the Justice Department led by Holder.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., filed two subpoenas over that period requesting additional information. But he has more recently focused on information related to a February 2011 letter to Congress that falsely claimed the ATF was unaware the operation involved the underground sale of the assault weapons.
“Today, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his continued refusal to produce relevant documents,” Issa said after the vote. “This was not the outcome I had sought and it could have been avoided had Attorney General Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide.”
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Congressional sources tell Fox News that House GOP leaders will now meet to decide the next steps, but the investigation is expected to go forward with more subpoenas being issued.
“Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year,” Holder said afterward. “By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety.”
The vote, which holds the attorney general in criminal contempt, was followed by a second vote that held Holder in civil contempt of Congress. The civil contempt vote allows Congress to go to court to seek additional documents.
The criminal-contempt vote is supposed to direct a U.S. attorney to convene a grand jury to review the case and decide whether to indict Holder.
However, considering Holder would be investigated by his own employees, some analysts have said it's unlikely that would happen. If the case proceeds, though, Holder could face a maximum one year in jail if convicted.
The votes came on one of the busiest days in Washington in recent history, with the Supreme Court ruling 5-4 in the morning to uphold the president’s health care reform law.
Details about Fast and Furious emerged after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a December 2010 shootout in which two of the assault weapons connected to operation were found at the scene.
“The Terry family takes no pleasure in the contempt vote,” according to a statement from the Brian Terry Foundation. “Such a vote should not have been necessary. The Department of Justice should have released the documents related to Fast and Furious months ago.”
Federal officials launched the operation in Arizona in an effort to get the weapons into the hands of arms dealers with the hope they would lead to organizers of Mexican drug cartels.
Others guns surfaced in crimes in Mexico, and roughly 2,000 remain missing.
Several meetings involving Obama administration officials and House Republicans, which involved negotiations about releasing additional documents, failed to stop the contempt votes.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer on Thursday called the vote a “political stunt."
“Despite the major economic challenges facing the country, they talked openly about devoting taxpayer-funded, congressional oversight resources to political purposes,” Pfeiffer said.
Among Democrats most opposed to the votes were members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who led more than 100 House party members in boycotting the vote and walking out of the chamber.
"Today, we are witnessing the great lengths to which Republican leadership will go in an attempt to discredit the Attorney General and embarrass the president,” said caucus Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. “Leadership’s actions are destructive, election-year politics.”
Prior to the vote, House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “It’s important to remember how we got here. The Justice Department has not provided the facts and information we requested. … It’s our constitutional duty to find out.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argued House Republicans were more politically motivated in attacking Holder than getting to the bottom of the failed operation.
“What is happening here is shameful," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
Lawmakers earlier voted against a proposal by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., to return the matter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.