Congress held Attorney General Eric Holder in both civil and criminal contempt yesterday, in historic bipartisan votes, for his refusal to provide subpoenaed documents in the Fast and Furious investigation. This has never happened before. So what happens next?
The first consequence will be that the last media outlets trying to protect the Obama Administration by refusing to report on the worst scandal in Justice Department history will be obliged to mention it, in considerably more detail than they would like. They’ll try to bury the details as much as possible, and they will still absurdly describe Fast and Furious as a “botched sting operation,” but they’ll have to explain why Congress wants those documents, and how long they’ve been waiting.
(For the benefit of those still working to catch up with the well-informed conservative blogosphere on this story, Fast and Furious was not a “sting operation.” In a sting operation, law enforcement makes a serious effort to arrest the purchasers of the illegal merchandise they have dangled as bait. Absolutely zero effort was made to do this in Operation Fast and Furious. The only reason some of the weapons have been recovered is that they’re turning up at crime scenes… not all of them in Mexico.)
Thus, there will be some political fallout from the contempt vote – even though it was, somewhat oddly, held in the shadow of the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision. Public awareness of this story will grow, and that’s deadly, as everyone trying to ignore it understands. Far less serious issues have become fatal to Washington careers due to saturation media coverage.
But what will become of Eric Holder? Well, his citation for criminal contempt will be turned over to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald Machen. The U.S. Attorney has considerable discretion over how he wants to proceed. Technically he has a duty to convene a grand jury, but legal scholars are debating whether this would be “mandatory.” Prosecutors are members of the executive branch, and we all know this particular executive branch doesn’t have much respect for the powers and privileges of the other two.