Days before the House of Representatives is scheduled to take an unprecedented vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, Obama administration officials and House Republican aides met today at the White House in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the standoff over documents related to the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation.
Those participating in the meeting included White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Justice Department associate deputy attorney general Steven Reich and staff representing House Speaker John Boehner and Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, although neither lawmaker was there.
At the meeting, GOP staffers from the speaker's office and the Oversight and Government Reform committee were permitted to briefly look at about 30 pages of documents, but both sides were unable to strike an agreement to avoid the contempt vote Thursday.
The hour-long meeting was described by a senior Obama administration official and GOP congressional sources as "picking-up on the offer DOJ made last Tuesday to the Committee" and was a product of a previous conversation between the speaker's office and the White House.
"At the time [last week], Republicans rejected the offer because they claimed to be uncomfortable making a deal without seeing the documents," the administration official told ABC. "In response, today we reached out and showed them a representative sample of the documents so they could see first-hand the types of communications in contention. This offer would result in the committee getting unprecedented access to documents showing how the Department responded to the Committee's inquiry and would dispel any notion of an intent to mislead Congress."
A congressional GOP aide who asked not to be identified also told ABC the offer was essentially the same as what Holder had presented Issa at the Capitol a week ago: A promise to make a compilation of documents available if the committee ends its investigation and takes contempt off the table. That offer was flatly rejected again today.
Republicans also asked the White House today whether it was willing to make a log available of the documents that the president would continue invoking executive privilege over, but the officials made clear that was "off the table," according to a congressional source.
"White House officials made clear they haven't changed their position," one GOP aide said. "The meeting ended with no clear expectation to meet again or have further discussions, but it wasn't a hostile ending."
Now, unless the standoff can be resolved before the scheduled contempt vote, Washington is bracing for a partisan battle on the House floor Thursday.
"This was a good-faith effort to resolve this while still protecting the institutional prerogatives of the Executive Branch, often championed by these same Republicans criticizing us right now," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. "Unfortunately Republicans have opted for political theater rather than conduct legitimate Congressional oversight."