Maine’s two U.S. representatives expressed their opposition to holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt on Thursday evening.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd, was among the 67 representatives who voted “no” on a resolution that made Holder the first member of a presidential Cabinet to be found in contempt of Congress. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st, joined more than 100 other Democrats who symbolically left the House chamber during the vote.

The contempt motion passed on a vote of 255-67.

Holder has been the target of heated criticism by mostly Republican House members over his refusal to hand over documents relating to “Operation Fast and Furious,” a federal gun-smuggling investigation along the Mexican border that went awry.

In that operation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents attempted to track rather than arrest low-level buyers of illegal guns in hopes of nabbing the major traffickers. But the bureau reportedly lost track of 1,400 of 2,000 illegally purchased guns, which have subsequently been linked to the shooting death of a U.S. border agent and hundreds of crimes in Mexico.

The issue has become a political football in recent weeks, with Republicans accusing Holder and the Obama administration of refusing to hand over potentially incriminating documents and Democrats accusing the GOP of attempting to capitalize on the case during an election year. And Thursday’s votes reflected the partisan nature of the debate.

Republicans picked up several Democratic supporters for criminal contempt charges against Holder. And it was still unclear late Thursday afternoon how Michaud would vote. Michaud was among 31 Democrats who signed onto a letter to President Obama last year urging Holder and the Department of Justice to comply with congressional inquiries on the issue.

But Michaud eventually sided with the vast majority of his party colleagues who either voted “no” or did not vote at all. The walk-out was organized by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Michaud was, however, among the relatively small number of Democrats who subsequently voted to allow the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to use the court system to pursue their subpoenas with the Justice Department. Pingree voted against authorization.

“Based on the facts, I determined that the attorney general was not in contempt of Congress, but it is still not clear whether DOJ has complied fully with the committee’s subpoena,” Michaud said in a statement released Thursday evening. “That is why I voted to authorize the House to take the matter to court, where it can be resolved in a nonpartisan fashion.”




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