US Attorney General Eric Holder has been held in criminal contempt of Congress in a historic and unprecedented move by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The censure is highly embarrassing for the most senior legal adviser to the Obama administration and head of the US Justice Department, but many Americans will see it as politically motivated.
In an angry statement, Mr Holder defiantly condemned the vote in the US House of Representatives as "political theatre". The White House called it a "transparently political stunt".
A number of Democrat lawmakers walked out of the chamber ahead of the vote in protest, calling it "shameful".
Action was taken against the Attorney General following his refusal to hand over certain documents relating to a botched gun tracking operation.
Operation Fast and Furious involved the release of a large number of firearms with the aim of tracking them across the border with Mexico. The plan was to track them and incriminate high level Mexican criminals.
The operation was botched, agents lost track of a number of weapons and two turned up at the scene of a shooting that took the life of a federal agent.
The US Department of Justice initially denied the operation, then had to admit it knew of its existence.
The House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee demanded documents relating to the operation, and when they failed to extract all of them from the Obama Administration , accused its officials of a cover up.
The Justice Department says senior officials had no knowledge of the operation and have handed over 7600 documents relating to it.
A number of Democrats voted with Republicans in favour of holding Mr Holder in contempt, bluntening claims the vote was entirely partisan.
But some may have been motivated by the all powerful gun lobby’s close interest in proceedings.
The National Rifle Association took sides in the argument and warned lawmakers they would be monitored for the way they voted. Several Democrats rely on the NRA for financial support in what could be a difficult election year.
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