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House GOP finds AG Holder in contempt

Sure, the underlying controversy is based on a deeply silly conspiracy theory. And sure, the Justice Department has already turned over relevant documents. And sure, there's reason to believe everything Republicans have been saying about the "scandal" is an overhyped myth.

But that didn't stop the House from voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt anyway this afternoon. The final vote was 255 to 67.

Why were there only 67 "nay" votes? Because most of the House Democrats, disgusted by the farcical vote, staged a coordinated walkout rather than participate in this sham.

Maybe some of the 255 lawmakers -- nearly all of whom were Republicans, though a few Democrats, afraid of the NRA, went along -- would benefit from watching last night's segment?

As for what happens now, the short answer is "probably nothing." The long answer is, this is a mess that could take a while.

As we discussed in May, Issa is trying to act quickly -- presumably to maximize the election impact -- but even if House Republicans seriously pursue this, the mess "would take years to sort out."

Stan Brand told TPM that Holder really shouldn't be worried because of how cumbersome the contempt process can get, describing contempt proceedings as "mostly for show" and a "circus event." The House would have to vote before it pursued civil remedies in court.

"I can't really take it seriously because as you know for the last 30 years the Justice Department -- both Republicans and Democrats -- has taken the position that you can't enforce the contempt statute against members of the executive branch who assert privilege or some other defense to the subpoenas," Brand said.

"I wouldn't be [worried] if I were advising the Attorney General, I'd say read the precedents and go about your business. Don't worry about it, it'll be 2014 before this gets resolved," Brand said.

As a rule, when committee chairs start huffing and puffing like this, the various officials work out some kind of arrangement. Of course, those traditions were established before House Republicans decided compromises were a menace. With this in mind, there is a worst case scenario: Republican leaders could instruct the House sergeant at arms to try to arrest the Attorney General, creating a bizarre constitutional crisis.

That is, however, an exceedingly unlikely scenario. More realistically, the issue will be reviewed by the Justice Department, which is run by none other than Eric Holder.

The larger context to all of this is that congressional Republicans are so desperate to uncover any kind of administration scandal that they waste a lot of time and energy on investigations that -- by their own admission -- are little more than political stunts.

In the "Fast and Furious" matter, there can be no doubt as to the GOP's motivations.

Tea Party Caucus member Steve King (R-Iowa) said Republican leadership is wary of using investigations it's conducting of the administration for political gain, especially when it comes to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun-tracking program.

"I think leadership doesn't want to be seen as using the gavels here for political purposes," King said in an interview. "I think there's a bit of an aversion to that. Me? I have no reservations about that. This is politics."

That's not a quote from a liberal Democrat attacking Issa and his witch hunt; that's a quote from an Issa ally making a candid confession.

Even Issa himself has said he looks at his foolish investigations as "good theater."

They have time for partisan games and abortion bills, but House Republicans still won't consider a serious jobs bill.