By FoxNews.com

The Justice Department moved Friday to shield Attorney General Eric Holder from prosecution after the House voted to hold him in contempt of Congress.

The contempt vote technically opens the door for the House to call on the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the case against Holder before a grand jury. But because U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen works for Holder and because President Obama has already asserted executive privilege over the documents in question, it was expected Holder's Justice Department would not take that step.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole confirmed in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner that the department in fact would not pursue prosecution. The attorney general's withholding of documents pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious, he wrote, "does not constitute a crime."

"Therefore the department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the attorney general," Cole wrote, in the letter obtained by Fox News.

A department official told Fox News the letter was "pro forma" -- or a formality -- considering that ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey in 2008 also refused to refer two Bush White House aides to a grand jury after they were held in contempt.

The move by the Holder Justice Department means Republicans are likely to take their case to civil court as they seek documents pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious -- which was already the unofficial plan. Along with the criminal contempt resolution, Republicans also passed a civil contempt measure Thursday allowing them to go to civil court to try and get an order that would compel the Obama administration to release the documents.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, acknowledged Thursday night that it was "very possible" the president would instruct the U.S. attorney not to prosecute Holder. He indicated Republicans would use the civil courts to get what they want.

"The House has authorized me to hire staff and legal staff who can pursue civilly through the courts to try to get a federal judge to order, separately, this discovery," he said.

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