Published July 12, 2012
Fallout from the Operation Fast and Furious scandal continues to spread, as Attorney General Eric Holder faces a new call to be disbarred or penalized after he was found in contempt of Congress.
A formal complaint was filed last week with the Washington, D.C., Office of Bar Counsel -- of which Holder is a member. The letter was submitted by gun-rights advocates and bloggers David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh, who have reported extensively on Operation Fast and Furious.
The complaint says it appears Holder has violated the rules of professional conduct after he was found in contempt of Congress last month for not complying with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoena seeking documents pertaining to the administration's handling of Fast and Furious.
That operation, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was launched in 2009 with the hope of catching Mexican drug cartel kingpins by allowing the sale and transfer of some 2,000 weapons. Two of those weapons later turned up at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010.
The filing makes reference to D.C. Bar Counsel rules and claims the attorney general violated the ethics code by "engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" and "conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice."
Though President Obama has claimed executive privilege over the documents in question -- in turn attempting to protect Holder from prosecution -- Brian Darling, senior fellow in government studies at The Heritage Foundation, suggested the complaint is on solid ground.
"It is clearly a reasonable basis for a complaint against Eric Holder to say 'you are in charge of the Justice Department, the Justice Department is refusing to produce documents that were subpoenaed by Congress and as a result you were held in contempt to Congress not once, but twice'," he said.
Others say there is no basis for the complaint.
"Because this particular complaint is written as if the attorney general had already been convicted of a crime, I think it will likely be rejected on its face," said Michael Frisch, former member of the D.C. Bar Counsel and current Georgetown Law School professor.
A similar complaint against Holder is expected to be filed in New York state, where he's also licensed to practice law.
Experts say due to the fluid nature of the Fast and Furious investigation, it's unclear if or how soon the complaint would be acted on.
"One of the options that (the) bar counsel has is to defer its investigation pending the outcome of some parallel proceeding -- whether it be a civil proceeding, a criminal proceeding or an internal investigation by some other agency," Frisch said.
Darling said the bar can "take it up" as this develops, "maybe in the next year."
The Justice Department downplayed the complaint.
"These are specious claims that ignore the facts and can only be described as frivolous. It appears to be a desperate attempt by some factions to drag out the destructive, political games that Americans are rightly fed up with," spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.
High-profile figures are no stranger to disbarment proceedings. Presidents, vice presidents and famous attorneys have all been removed from different states' bar associations.
Back in 2000, Arkansas' Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct asked for the disbarment of former President Bill Clinton, saying he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. A deal was reached and Clinton lost his Arkansas law license for five years. He also was forced to resign from the Supreme Court bar.
Former President Richard Nixon was disbarred in New York for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal. Former Vice President Spiro Agnew was disbarred because of bribery and tax evasion charges. Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was kicked out in North Carolina for "prosecutorial misconduct" related to his handling of the Duke University lacrosse case.
And F. Lee Bailey, defense attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, was disbarred in two states after he was found guilty of seven counts of attorney misconduct by the Florida Supreme court.
Depending on the jurisdiction, a lawyer could be banned for life or could later reapply to the bar. According to American Bar Association statistics, some 800 lawyers were disbarred in 2010.