By Cassandra Novick
“This is the first time in the history of our nation that an Attorney General will be held in contempt of Congress,” said Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights during an appearance with other civil rights advocates on Tuesday.
Henderson and his peers discussed what they called an unfair scrutiny of Attorney General Eric Holder by Republican lawmakers who claim that Holder has hindered their investigation into a now infamous gun-walking program known as Operation Fast and Furious.
Henderson complained that former Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, who oversaw Fast and Furious’s predecessor, Operation Wide-Receiver, has not once been called to testify during the current GOP-led investigation. That, he said, shows that there is “evidence enough that this is not just about an investigation into ATF activities.”
The civil right activists who gathered today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. said that race, Holder’s pursuits of immigration and voting rights and “naked” divisive politics are the three factors driving the contempt charges against Holder, the country’s first black U.S. Attorney General.
“The issue of race is a subtle factor,” Henderson suggested.
The House of Representatives will vote Thursday on whether to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.
In response to the assertion that Holder’s detractors are racist, Rev. Al Sharpton promised that he’d defend the Attorney General regardless of whether he was, “white, black, or polka dot.”
“For those who say the only reason we bring up race is because he is black, no, we bring up race because the issues he fought,” Sharpton said, citing Holder’s opposition to the Arizona immigration law, which Sharpton said allows police to racially profile immigrants.
Sharpton claimed that Congress, in pursuing contempt charges, is attempting to “put a cloud over [Holder’s] head.”
Urban League President Marc Morial attributed the charges of contempt against Holder to, “nothing more than a clumsy, naked, politically-motivated witch hunt.”
“It is nothing but an attempt to smear his reputation and chill his voice,” Morial said.
Morial also argued that the contempt charges are, “designed to distract people from the idea that Congress is doing nothing on education, jobs, and workforce.” He called on lawmakers to “suspend this circus” and “get back to work.”
Audience members I spoke with following the news conference told me they were concerned that the media would focus solely on the issue of race, despite it being only briefly mentioned. They said they wanted the press to focus instead on the arguments made by the speakers that the contempt charges are a show of partisan, election-year politics rather than a genuine pursuit of due process.