The White House denounced the Republican-led House of Representatives vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, accusing President Barack Obama's foes of looking to score political points.
Republicans said Holder's refusal to turn over documents tied to the Fast and Furious operation, which aimed to track how firearms sold in America end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels, had compelled lawmakers to act.
But Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer accused Republicans of opting "for political theater rather than legitimate Congressional oversight" after serving notice earlier this year that one of their top goals was "to investigate the Administration and ensure that President Obama was a one-term President."
"Despite the major economic challenges facing the country, they talked openly about devoting taxpayer-funded, Congressional oversight resources to political purposes," he charged in a statement. Pfeiffer insisted that Holder and the Justice Department had worked to accommodate the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's requests for documents related to the aftermath of the botched operation. Two of the many firearms that went missing were later recovered at the scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
"But unfortunately, a politically-motivated agenda prevailed and instead of engaging with the President in efforts to create jobs and grow the economy, today we saw the House of Representatives perform a transparently political stunt," Pfeiffer said.
The official repudiated so-called "gunwalking," in which guns are deliberately allowed to flow to suspected criminals. The tactic has come to be associated with Fast and Furious, though a recent Fortune Magazine investigation cast doubt on whether it was ever part of that operation.
"The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration's Attorney General who ended it," said Pfeiffer. Fast and Furious began under Obama, but aides to the Democratic president have pointed to similar operations under Bush.
Pfeiffer also noted that the House Oversight and Government Reform's Republican Chairman, Congressman Darrell Issa, had acknowledged on Wednesday that he had no evidence, or even a suspicion, that Holder "knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation."
The White House had previously denied any cover-up in Fast and Furious, even as Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold documents from Congress. Obama aides say that turning over the requested documents would compromise ongoing investigations -- including one by the department's inspector general -- and reveal internal executive-branch deliberations. The latter argument turns on the idea that future officials will not offer their best, candid advice to future attorneys general or presidents if they worry that their views can easily be made public.