The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has filed a civil contempt of Congress lawsuit against Attorney General Eric Holder in an effort to enforce a subpoena to obtain internal Justice Department memos about the botched ATF Fast and Furious gun-trafficking operation.
At Holder's request, the White House invoked executive privilege in June on the information that Rep. Issa's committee subpoenaed seeking internal DOJ documents after drafting a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Congress that contained inaccurate information about operations at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.
"The Attorney General's conception of the reach of 'Executive privilege,' were it to be accepted, would cripple congressional oversight of Executive branch agencies, to the very great detriment of the Nation and our constitutional structure," the lawsuit filed Monday morning at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asserted.
"The Committee asks this Court to reject the Attorney General's assertion of 'Executive privilege' and order him forthwith to comply with the Committee's subpoena."
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa., have been investigating the gun trafficking operation that resulted in the ATF Phoenix Field Office's losing track of about 2,000 guns.
The ATF's flawed "Fast and Furious" operation allowed firearms to "walk" across the U.S. border into Mexico in hopes of tracing the guns and locating major weapons traffickers. ATF devised the program in 2009 to try to track straw purchases of firearms where a gun is legally bought but then illegally sold to another individual.
The operation took a tragic turn when two weapons found in December 2010 at the scene of murdered U.S. Border Patrol Brian Terry were found to be linked to Fast and Furious. The guns from Fast and Furious have been linked to dozens of crimes in Mexico and Arizona as well.
In seeking the president's assertion of executive privilege, Holder wrote to president Obama that the documents in question, "were not generated in the course of the conduct of Fast and Furious. Instead, they were created after the investigative tactics at issue in that operation had terminated and in the course of the Department's deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation."
The executive privilege claim in the investigation was the first time Obama had asserted executive privilege during his term. The House of Representatives voted June 28 to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to release the subpoenaed documents.
The Justice Department has produced thousands of pages of materials about Fast and Furious and attempted to reach a compromise with Issa and Grassley in the days leading up to Holder's contempt vote.
"We were always willing to work with the Committee, instead the House and the Committee have said they prefer to litigate," Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed, "This partisan lawsuit wastes taxpayer dollars and resources, and is a distraction from the urgent business before Congress: acting to create jobs and grow our economy."
Issa said in announcing the lawsuit, "The president's decision was a calculated political maneuver designed to stop the release of documents until after November's elections. After promising an unprecedented level of transparency, the president is attempting to expand the reach of executive privilege to obstruct the truth about the reckless conduct that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol Agent and countless Mexican citizens."
The Justice Department's inspector general is conducting a wide-ranging review of Fast and Furious and another botched ATF gun trafficking operation dubbed Wide Receiver. Unlike the congressional investigation, the Department's inspector general has access to all Justice Department documents, including grand jury materials. The inspector general's review is expected to be released in the next several weeks.