The Justice Department moved Friday to shield Attorney General Eric Holder from prosecution after the House voted to hold him in contempt of Congress.
The contempt vote technically opened the door for the House to call on the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the case before a grand jury. But because U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen works for Holder and because President Obama has already asserted executive privilege over the documents in question, some expected Holder’s Justice Department to balk.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole confirmed in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner that the department in fact would not pursue prosecution. The attorney general’s withholding of documents pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious, he wrote, “does not constitute a crime.”
“Therefore the department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the attorney general,” Cole wrote, in the letter obtained by Fox News.
A department official told Fox News the letter was “pro forma” — or a formality — considering that ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey in 2008 also refused to refer two Bush White House aides to a grand jury after they were held in contempt.
Republicans nevertheless blasted the Justice Department for the move. Frederick Hill, spokesman for House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, said “it is regrettable that the political leadership of the Justice Department is trying to intervene in an effort to prevent the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from making an independent decision about whether to prosecute this case.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also wrote in a letter to Machen that the Cole letter “has put the cart before the horse.” He suggested the U.S. attorney has not yet had a chance to make an informed decision on whether to move forward with the case.
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