Officials from the Justice Department and the White House met with senior aides to House Speaker John Boehner and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa at the White House on Tuesday to try to head off a House vote holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
But their offer to show congressional investigators some documents related to the failed "Fast and Furious" gun-trafficking program was rejected.
According to a summary of the offer provided by a senior administration official and a Justice Department official familiar with the discussions, the Justice Department outlined an offer that included giving Congress access to some of the documents generated between Feb. 4, 2011, when the Justice Department initially told Congress there was no inappropriate activity, and Dec. 2, 2011, when it acknowledged the program was "fundamentally flawed."
"We reached out and showed them a representative sample of the documents so they could see firsthand the types of communications in contention," said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege in the dispute.
The Justice Department also offered to conduct a briefing, give Congress documents related to the whistle-blowers, and work with the committee to respond to any questions it had after reviewing the materials. According to a summary of the offer, the Justice Department maintained that this would have given Congress "unprecedented access to deliberative documents."
The administration official said the documents would "dispel any notion of an intent to mislead Congress."
One senior House GOP aide confirmed that the Justice Department made the offer to senior Republican staff, but said it wasn't sufficient. GOP leaders plan to move forward with a House vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, which is scheduled for Thursday.
Regarding the offer, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told CNN: "This was a good faith effort to try to reach an accommodation while still protecting the institutional prerogatives of the executive branch, often championed by these same Republicans criticizing us right now. Unfortunately, Republicans have opted for political theater rather than conduct legitimate congressional oversight."
Also Tuesday, the No. 2 Democrat in the House signaled that some Democrats could join with Republicans to hold Holder in contempt, citing pressure from the National Rifle Association.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee approved a resolution last week holding Holder in contempt for failing to release documents related to the committee's investigation of "Fast and Furious."
Some gun rights advocates, including the NRA, maintain that the program that allowed hundreds of weapons, including assault rifles, to go across the border into Mexico was a way for the Obama Administration to press for new gun control laws. Issa said on Sunday he had emails showing the administration planned to point to the operation and push for a "weapons ban or greater reporting."
When asked in his weekly session with reporters to give an estimate of how many Democrats might defect on the vote, Rep Steny Hoyer, D-Md., replied "I can't."
Hoyer immediately pointed out that the NRA has "weighed in on this issue" and acknowledged "there are some members who will consider the recommendations of the NRA."
"Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not I don't know at this point," Hoyer added.
Democratic leaders are urging rank-and-file members to stick together and oppose the resolution, according to a senior House Democratic aide. The vote in the committee last week was a party line vote, but that came before the gun lobby formally registered its support for the contempt resolution. Rarely has any pro-gun-rights Democrat representing a rural and Southern district broken with the NRA's position on key votes, especially in an election year.
The NRA's executive director, Chris Cox, sent a letter to Issa after the committee vote last week supporting his efforts. In the letter Cox writes, "It's no secret that the NRA does not admire Holder," adding, "for years we have pointed out his history of anti-Second Amendment advocacy and enforcement actions."
"The reason we support the contempt resolution is the same reason we first called for Attorney General Holder's resignation more than a year ago; the Department's obstruction of congressional oversight of a program that costs lives in support of an anti-gun agenda," the letter explains.
The NRA, which frequently weighs in on congressional races with endorsements and support of a national grassroots network, also put members on notice that anyone who votes against contempt could face consequences in the fall election. "This is an issue of utmost seriousness and the NRA will consider this vote in our future candidate evaluations," the organization said.
The top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, pushed back at Issa's claim that he had evidence that "Fast and Furious" was an effort to push for a ban on assault weapons.
"I don't believe that, and I think it's very unfortunate that people are coming up with these theories," Cummings told reporters Tuesday.
Hoyer challenged Issa to produce evidence that linked the failed gun-walking program to an effort by the administration to press new gun laws. He also chastised the GOP for moving ahead with the full floor vote on Thursday, calling it "an inevitable conclusion that the rush to judgment, the rush to consideration is again the choosing of confrontation over consensus in the resolution of issues."