From Terry Frieden and Deirdre Walsh, CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to meet with a House committee chairman Tuesday about turning over documents that might postpone a contempt vote for the nation’s top prosecutor.
Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, are scheduled to meet to discuss Issa’s demand for more documents relating to “Operation Fast and Furious,” a federal firearms investigation that allowed hundreds of guns to reach Mexican drug gangs. Issa is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Issa has offered to postpone a contempt vote if Holder followed through on an earlier pledge to turn over some of the documents, but Holder said Monday that he wasn’t willing to deliver the records before a meeting and wanted key Democrats to take part.
In a letter back to Holder late Monday, Issa said he won’t be able to decide whether to put off the scheduled vote on a contempt motion without seeing the documents beforehand. And he complained that the Justice Department has failed to turn over a record of what documents it is refusing to hand over and why.
“As the committee lacks this information, I will not be in a position tomorrow to negotiate over whether certain actions — short of full compliance — are sufficient to warrant more than a delay of contempt proceedings,” he wrote.
Issa has accused the attorney general of stonewalling an investigation into Fast and Furious and how the Justice Department came to state to Congress that no improper tactics were used in the operation. The department says it already has handed over more than 7,000 pages of records to House investigators and says the remaining material Issa wants could jeopardize criminal prosecutions.
But Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, said Issa’s latest offer amounted to “moving the goal posts.” He said Holder is trying to accommodate the requests from Issa “and obey the law, because he wanted documents that were sealed.”
Issa has scheduled a vote for Wednesday on a measure citing Holder for contempt for failing to turn over the documents sought. But last Friday, he offered to postpone the vote if Holder turned over some of the documents.
Issa also agreed to a meeting on the issue, but made clear he wanted the documents ahead of time and also wanted Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa — the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and a leading Holder critic — to take part.
Holder agreed to a meeting on Tuesday, but told Issa he wanted to include Cummings and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Democrat Pat Leahy.
His letter said the purpose of the meeting would be to reach an agreement that would avoid a “constitutional confrontation” — a reference to the committee’s planned vote on the contempt measure.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched Operation Fast and Furious out of Arizona to track weapons purchases by Mexican drug cartels. However, it lost track of more than 1,000 firearms that the agency had allowed straw buyers to carry across the border, and two of the lost weapons turned up at the scene of the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
Issa and Grassley have accused Holder and other top Justice Department officials of withholding requested documents and misleading them about when they first learned of the program.
Holder fended off a call for his resignation last week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, accused him of misleading Congress over the Fast and Furious program and other misdeeds.
Holder called Cornyn’s complaint “almost breathtaking in its inaccuracy,” adding, “I don’t have any intention of resigning.”
CNN’s Tom Cohen and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.