U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a House committee were ordered by a federal judge to try mediation to resolve a lawsuit over a congressional subpoena probing the Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, in a one-page order responding to concerns that four months of settlement talks have failed, said the parties should begin mediation today through April 22. The mediation will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein.
Jackson’s ruling was made over objections from House Republicans who said in a March 15 court filing that Holder is not motivated to provide “useful documents” to the committee and that mediation would just lead to further delay. Holder, in the same joint filing, said mediation would provide a forum for the parties to “frankly and confidentially” present their views to a neutral third party.
The lawsuit against Holder brought by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee stems from the panel’s investigation into so-called gun walking, which allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. to proceed in an effort to link the weapons to Mexican gangs. Holder, citing executive privilege, has refused to give lawmakers some material they wanted.
The Republican-controlled House is seeking documents describing internal Justice Department discussions about a February 2011 letter to lawmakers that Holder later said mistakenly contained incorrect information.
The letter said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which conducted Fast and Furious, hadn’t “knowingly allowed” the tactics in the law enforcement operation to be employed.
The committee cited Holder for contempt of Congress in June. President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over the documents and declined to turn them over.
In an October filing seeking dismissal of the case, Holder said that under the U.S. Constitution’s separation-of-powers doctrine, conflict over Operation Fast and Furious should be resolved between the political branches.
An inspector general’s report outlined management failures as well as flaws in the program that lost track of about 2,000 guns purchased by straw buyers. Two of the guns were found at the scene of the 2010 killing in Arizona of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
If the parties can’t agree, Jackson said at a hearing in November that she will consider the department’s argument that the court lacks jurisdiction over the case before deciding whether Congress has a right to any of the documents it seeks.
The case is Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder, 12-cv-01332, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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