The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to recommend that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder be cited for contempt of Congress for witholding documents requested in the investigation of the failed "Fast and Furious" sting operation.
The "Fast and Furious" sting was intended to trace suspected illegal arms as they traveled across the U.S.-Mexico border. However, U.S. authorities lost track of some of the weapons which were eventually found at the crime scene of a killed border patrol agent. Questions about the failed operation spurred an investigation into the sting program
A vote next week by the full House could put Holder in contempt of Congress, a move that would be unprecedented. Meanwhile, President Obama is being criticized by Republicans for using executive privilege just hours before Wednesday's vote to prevent the documents from being disclosed.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) helped launched the investigation and tells Soledad O'Brien on CNN's "Starting Point" that the Fast and Furious program was "stupid" and says the withheld documents are essential to the investigation of the program, "In order to be a check on the executive branch under our Constitution, we need this information."
Transcript available after the jump.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Speaker Boehner says he wants to see this go to the House floor next week. What do you think the chances are that this is going to be negotiated out as they usually are, these cases, or that in fact it will go to a vote?
GRASSLEY: Well, I think it's going to go to a vote. But I would very much hope that it would be negotiated out. And really all we're asking for is documents. And these documents have all been inside of the Justice Department.
We know of no presidential involvement in this. I have never accused the president of anything until just now when he puts executive privilege in. And that raises a whole bunch of questions. Has he been involved?
I have only been trying to find out who at the highest level of government in the – presumably in the Justice Department that gave approval for this so we can get them fired, make sure a stupid program that led to the murder of Brian Terry is never instituted again.
And, lastly, to make sure that the family of Brian Terry gets information which they have no information on the murder of their son at this point. And the murderer has not been arrested.
O'BRIEN: No sitting attorney general has ever been held in contempt. Janet Reno as you well know was held in contempt in committee. And speaker at the time, Speaker Gingrich, refused to bring that to the full house. It didn't happen in Watergate.
So I guess my question would be, this is going to be precedent- setting. Do you think that this specific thing, what you just called a stupid program that resulted in the death of a border patrol agent, does it rise to that level?
GRASSLEY: Well, I think there's several respects where it rises to this level. Number one, Congress passes laws. That doesn't - that isn't the end of Congress' involvement. We are supposed to be a check on the executive branch to make sure the laws are faithfully executed.
When you're encouraging - the government is encouraging guns to be sold illegally to people that shouldn't have them, the laws aren't being faithfully executed. So in order to be a check on the executive branch under our Constitution, we need this information.
O'BRIEN: Seems to I think give fodder to those like Elijah Cummings who I was talking to this morning who said this is purely partisan. Look at the vote. It was purely along partisan lines. Congress these days is viciously partisan.
Here's what he told me earlier this morning, sir.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: This is not about the facts. This is about politics. And anybody who looks at this knows that. The chairman had made up his mind, and this is a result that I guess he wanted. And now we see where we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: There are lots of people besides the congressman saying that. What would you say to him?
GRASSLEY: Well, I would say to him - he can say anything about members of the House of Representatives he wants to. But he knows me well enough in the three decades have I been in the Senate, I have established a reputation for vigorous oversight. And I have probably taken on more Republican presidents of my own party than I have Democratic presidents.
So nobody can question whether or not I'm politically motivated by this. I'm motivated to get the facts out, to make sure the law is faithfully executed, to make sure the Terry family gets the information, and make sure a stupid program like this never happens again.
O'BRIEN: Senator Charles Grassley joining us this morning - he is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you very much. We appreciate your time this morning.
GRASSLEY: Thank you, Soledad.