The Obama administration and lawmakers traded
barbs ahead of a planned vote Thursday that could see U.S. Attorney
General Eric Holder held in contempt of Congress.
A committee of the Republican-controlled lower House of Representatives recommended last week that Holder be cited for contempt of Congress for his refusal to provide documents on Operation Fast and Furious, in which US authorities allowed illicit guns to cross into Mexico. The issue is due to go before the full House on Thursday.
The White House has been unable to fend off what would be an unprecedented vote against the administration's top justice official, but spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday he hoped Republicans would still change their mind about proceeding.
"This is a political theater," he said. "It is an unnecessary distraction from the work the Congress should be doing for the American people on the economy, on jobs, and most Americans will view it that way."
However, House Speaker John Boehner vowed to proceed as lawmakers attempt to get to the bottom of a botched operation that saw a US border patrol agent killed with guns linked to the investigation.
"We'd really rather have the attorney general and the president work with us to get to the bottom of a very serious issue," he said.
"The American people have a right to know what happened, and we're going to proceed. We've given (the administration) ample opportunity to comply. ... Unfortunately, they're not willing to show the American people the truth about what happened."
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association, one of the country's most powerful citizen groups, has accused the Obama administration of using the Fast and Furious operation to back up its efforts to push for stricter gun laws, and the gun-rights lobby has called on lawmakers to support the action against Holder.
The case involves the undercover probe known as Operation Fast and Furious, which aimed to track weapons sold in the US and smuggled across the border to Mexican drug cartels. Federal authorities lost track of some 2,000 of the guns, one of which was used to kill a US officer.
Brian Terry, a US border patrol officer in Arizona, was slain on December 14, 2010, by a bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle that was part of the botched scheme that Holder himself said "must never happen again."
Seeking to underline the growing crisis of the role of US guns in Mexican gang violence, Holder told Congress in November 2011 that nearly two-thirds of the 94,000 weapons confiscated by Mexican officials in the last five years could be traced to the United States.
In most cases, straw buyers for drug cartels purchase guns legally, either from the 8,000 licensed U.S. dealers or at gun shows primarily in the southwestern United States.
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