The US House of Representatives has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The move follows his alleged refusal to hand over documents related to a failed gun-running probe.
In an unprecedented case, the Republican-led house agreed by 255-67 votes on Thursday to hold US President Barack Obama's top law official in contempt. It was the first time a sitting Cabinet member has been held in contempt of Congress.
The decision largely followed partisan lines, with a number of Democrats boycotting the vote. Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi led many of her colleagues in a walkout of the chamber in protest against the ruling amid charges that it was politically motivated ahead of November's presidential election.
Eric Holder stands accused of withholding documents relating to an investigation into a botched US gun-tracking operation along the Mexican border.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is seeking documents relating to a long-running operation known as "Operation Fast and Furious." It was aimed at establishing whether guns were being purchased in Arizona and taken to Mexico for use by drug cartels.
The Justice Department had initially denied that a program was being run which allowed guns to "walk" into Mexico. The department retracted this claim last December. US government figures suggest that some 68,000 of the 99,000 firearms recovered in Mexico between 2007 and 2011 came from the United States.
Republican representative and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa, had previously criticized the gun-tracking operation for being "reckless."
He added that the contempt vote was being held "because when we asked legitimate questions ... about Fast and Furious, we were lied to. We were lied to repeatedly and over a 10-month period."
ccp/TM (AFP, Reuters, AP)