Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fast and Furious: US facing historic contempt vote

Conservative US Democrats have begun to desert Attorney General Eric H. Holder on the eve of a historic contempt of Congress vote, as Republicans upped the ante by planning to take Holder to court themselves if he doesn't hand over 1500 pages in documents on a failed gun-tracking operation.

House vote counters predicted that 20 to 31 Democrats would desert their party largely because the influential National Rifle Association threatened to oppose lawmakers who support the attorney general.

The House scheduled up to two hours of debate on Thursday before it votes on whether Holder, one of President Barack Obama's closest and most trusted cabinet allies, should be held in contempt.  It would be the first time a sitting member of the president's cabinet has been held in contempt.

Holder has repeatedly rebuffed a congressional subpoena to turn over 1500 pages of internal Department of Justice documents detailing his handling of the botched ATF Fast and Furious program.

The House will consider two resolutions.

The first would ask the US attorney in Washington to file a criminal case to force Holder to comply with the subpoena.

The other would permit the House to hire an outside lawyer to file a civil lawsuit asking a judge to compel Holder to cooperate.

Otherwise, a contempt resolution likely would die once it was sent to the US attorney, who works for Holder and likely would not force his boss to comply because Obama has asserted executive privilege to keep the documents sealed.

Although the Republican-controlled House does not need Democratic votes to pass the contempt resolution, the fact that a growing number of Democrats may switch sides points to the volatility of the increasingly political situation.

Two Democrats announced they would join Republicans in finding Holder in contempt for Fast and Furious, in which federal agents allowed 2500 firearms to be illegally purchased on the southwest border and two were recovered when US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.

"The Terry family, the public and Congress deserve answers," said Representative Jim Matheson, a six-term Democrat from Utah.

"Sadly, it seems that it will take holding the attorney general in contempt to communicate that evasiveness is unacceptable. It is a vote I will support."

Representative John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat in his fourth term, said: "The only way to get to the bottom of what happened is for the Department of Justice to turn over the remaining documents."

Then, he said, "We can work together to ensure this tragedy never happens again."

Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has predicted that as many as 31 Democrats will vote with Republicans, based on the number of Democrats who joined Republicans a year ago asking Obama to direct Holder to cooperate with Congress.

Other House aides put the likely number of Democratic defections at 20.

But some conservative Democrats are remaining loyal to their party. "The House is rushing to judgment on this important issue," said Representative Jim Cooper, in his 11th term from Tennessee.

He said Congress should wait for the Justice Department's inspector general to complete its investigation into Fast and Furious, which he said "is nearing completion".

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration's stance that House Republicans are pushing contempt when they should be focusing on jobs and the economy.

He said they "have made the strategic choice to try to score political points," and that "this is political theatre".

A last-minute effort at compromise by White House and Justice officials was rebuffed by House Republicans on Tuesday.

The administration officials showed them about 30 pages of the 1500 pages in question, and promised more if they would stop the drive toward contempt.

Issa and the Republicans refused.


British gun control

Where did these hundreds of seized weapons come from?

The deadly haul of guns collected from the streets of the West Midlands include an Uzi, AK47 and an exact replica of the handgun used by Saddam Hussain.

The myriad of over a hundred fierce firearms - some of which are modified or homemade - have been seized by, or been surrendered to, West Midland’s Police over the last 12 months.

The cache of weapons are now being contained within a secure unit at a secret location by the force and are being used to train firearms officers.

Pc Rob Pedley, a former firearms officer for 11 years, said: 'We obtain the guns through a variety of sources, many are seized but some are surrendered and handed in through amnesty’s and via other means.

'Some people have legitimately held licenses for rifles and decided to get rid of them - others we can perhaps connect to crimes or planned crimes.

'But each gun can be dangerous when in the wrong hands and we need to continually remind people of that fact.

'As a firearms officer, you have to very quickly assess situations and decide what the correct response is.

'It’s very difficult to know whether a firearm someone is in possession of is genuine or an imitation, and it is even more difficult when think about the fact that it could be pitch black and the person holding that weapon could 50 yards or more away.'

The force said yesterday said that imitation guns, easily sought for just a few pounds from a variety of websites, can even be as dangerous as the real thing.


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