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Will politics obstruct contempt charges against Holder in 'Fast and Furious'?

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will vote June 20 whether to hold attorney general in contempt for 'Fast and Furious'

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 11, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: House leaders are threatening and even taking steps towards pulling the trigger. Attorney General Eric Holder is a giant step closer to a contempt citation. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee just did it. They set a date to decide whether to hold the attorney general in contempt or not. That vote is set for next week.

Now, some House Republicans say Attorney General Holder has been flagrantly ignoring their October subpoena to him despite their repeated requests. They want the attorney general to produce more documents related to Operation Fast and Furious.

Congressman Trey Gowdy is a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He joins us. Good evening, sir.

REP. TREY GOWDY, R-S.C.: Good evening, Greta. How are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm very well. So the date is next week for the vote by the committee. Do you want to put a prediction whether or not -- it's dominated, of course, by Republicans, but will there be a vote on the committee to seek a contempt citation?

GOWDY: Well, it's set for next Thursday. And you know, Greta, historically, when we've gotten to this point, the party that is being asked to comply has gone ahead and complied. So we've never actually gotten to the point historically of holding someone in contempt of Congress.

So either between now and Thursday, he will produce the documents we've asked for, or we're going to mark up or have a hearing on contempt of Congress.

And you're right, the division is more Republican than Democrat. I would hope that some of our colleagues on the other side would view this as a law enforcement issue and not a political issue. I would love to have some of them join us and stand up for the prerogative of Congress to perform oversight.

But we'll find out Thursday. I can tell you how I will vote, and I suspect I know what the outcome will be if we actually get it to, if he doesn't comply between now and then.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, by compliance for you -- for your vote, first of all, what documents do you want, if you can give me some sort of idea of a universe? And then, secondly, are you willing to negotiate or do you simply -- those are the documents you want. Those are the documents you feel you're entitled to. So it's either going to be all those documents or you'll be voting for contempt.

GOWDY: I wasn't a great negotiator when I was a prosecutor. I think when it gets to a certain point, you have to let the jury decide. But I'm -- thankfully for the country, I suppose, I'm not in a leadership position in Congress. That would be Darrell Issa and John Boehner. Those decisions will be made at a higher level than mine.

If they ask my opinion, I think for the sanctity of the constitutional role of oversight for Congress -- we've given him over a year. So I don't like to reward indolence and letting people plea bargain on the courthouse steps, so to speak.

In terms of categories of documents, there are 22 categories, 14 of which we have no documents whatsoever. So the first piece of paper he gives us will be the only piece of paper we have in that category.

I'm primarily interested in any more evidence that senior-level DoJ officials knew about "Fast and Furious" prior to Brian Terry's death, and I'm primarily interested in how such a demonstrably false letter could have been drafted, approved and ultimately delivered by the Department of Justice as it was to Senator Grassley.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the one you're speaking about is the one that they have now admitted had false information. I guess that they say that they didn't have the information, or they were misinformed, that they were not deliberately trying to fool or deceive Senator Grassley.

Now, what the Justice Department says to Congress -- about Congressman Issa, it says, "From the beginning, Chairman Issa has distorted the facts, ignored testimony and flung inaccurate accusations at the attorney general and others."

Do you -- do you take issue with that?

GOWDY: Well, I take issue. It's just -- it's -- it's -- it is just as demonstrably false as the letter they sent in February. I mean, look, they're in a no-win situation. They're not complying with a legitimate congressional inquiry. We have a dead border patrol agent. We have hundreds of dead Mexican citizens. This is bad issue from a law enforcement standpoint for the Department of Justice. It's probably a bad political issue, although I'm not the right person to ask.

What are they going to say? They can either say, You're right, we messed up, or they can do what the attorney general's spokeswoman did today, which is say that this is a typical Washington game.

I promise you, Eric Holder's been in Washington a lot longer than I have. So if anyone knows how to play Washington games, it would be him and not the freshmen on the Oversight Committee.

It's not about politics. Never has been with me. Comply with the subpoena. You may be exonerated. You may have done nothing wrong. How will I know that if you're withholding the documents?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, one of the other things that the Department of Justice says is that there's an ongoing investigation and they don't want to jeopardize that investigation by surrendering documents to you. I assume that you agree that, you know, in the right instance, that would be a legitimate reason not to provide them now.

Do you believe that just to be a dodge, or -- or maybe you don't even believe that that would be a sufficient excuse anyway.

GOWDY: To be candid with you, I think it's some of both. There is an ongoing investigation. There are actually ongoing prosecutions. I would never want to jeopardize that. But I don't think e-mails from Lanny Breuer to Jason Weinstein or to the attorney general or e-mails exchanged surrounding the drafting of this letter -- that has nothing to do with the prosecution or an ongoing criminal investigation.

So look, any time a prosecutor doesn't want to comply with a FOIA request, we always tell you in the media there's an ongoing investigation. I suspect you see through it when we used to do it as a prosecutor. And I certainly see through it when it's being done now.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, why is the attorney general not answering your subpoena? What's your theory?

GOWDY: Greta, I don't know. I -- I -- he's got a hard job. I want to be fair to him. My suspicion is that there is something in those documents that proves what we have suspected all along, which is this was not an Arizona operation. Main Justice's fingerprints are all over it, and someone high up, some high political appointee -- it may not be Eric Holder. It may be Lanny Breuer. It may be someone else.

I don't know who, but someone orchestrated that false letter to Congress which is going to prove to be very damning. That's the only conclusion I'm left to reach because he's on the precipice of history. He'll be the first attorney general to actually be held in contempt of Congress, at least in modern times. I don't think he wants it on his resume.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I know you're very aggressive about this. I know Congressman Chaffetz is. I know Congressman Issa is. But I'm curious whether you think that Speaker Boehner and the Republican leadership in the House has the stomach to or the political will to, you know, pursue this further or whether they'll sort of negotiate this away, or whether you will get all your documents or the contempt?

GOWDY: Well, you know, Speaker Boehner sat down beside me on the House floor about a week ago. He knows I'm frustrated. He also knows my background. I -- I -- this issue means a lot to me for a number of reasons. Eric Cantor and I spoke about it before I left last week.

I think what was really important to them was to watch not an Oversight Committee hearing but a Judiciary Committee hearing last week, where 14 members asked about Fast and Furious, including Democrats asked about Fast and Furious.

So this is not a political issue. It's not just a handful of Southern states and Utah that care about it. It's really important in terms of respect for law enforcement, respect for the rule of law and Congress's responsibility to ask these questions.

Greta, if there were an operation like this and I didn't ask these questions, you would come down hard on me, and you should do so. It's my job to ask how this could have happened and what guarantees do we have that it'll never happen again?

I think, you know, Mr. Boehner will have a steel spine when it comes to this, and leadership -- I think the way Mr. Boehner does things is he gets all of his facts ahead of time. He was a little slower than I would have liked for him to have been, in all candor, in coming to this conclusion he came to over the weekend.

But once he made up his mind that we're going to go this route, the attorney general better provide those documents or he will go down in history and not in a way that he wants.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, just in reference -- I know when you said your background, the viewers may have forgotten you are a former federal prosecutor, and just to sort of further enlighten that. Congressman, thank you, sir.

GOWDY: Thank you, ma'am.