Attorney General Eric Holder won’t be prosecuted for failing to provide the U.S. House with documents lawmakers requested about a federal gun operation, the Justice Department said.
The department’s decision, described in a letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, came after the House voted yesterday to cite Holder for contempt. At issue is material related to the Fast and Furious gun operation, which allowed illegally purchased firearms from the U.S. to wind up at crime scenes in Mexico.
Holder’s response to lawmakers’ subpoena doesn’t constitute a crime, said Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a letter yesterday to Boehner, an Ohio Republican. President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over the documents and declined to turn them over.
The Justice Department’s longstanding position is that it won’t prosecute executive branch officials for withholding documents after a president asserts privilege.
Executive privilege is a principle that says the executive branch can’t be required by Congress to disclose confidential communications because their release would harm the operations of the White House.
The House voted to make Holder the first sitting Cabinet member held in contempt by either chamber of Congress.
Lawmakers also authorized a civil lawsuit to force Holder to turn over the documents.
The contempt citation was forwarded to the U.S. attorney in Washington, part of the Justice Department, for prosecution.
A spokeswoman for Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, who led the effort to cite Holder, criticized the department’s decision.
“It is regrettable that the political leadership of the Justice Department is trying to intervene in an effort to prevent the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from making an independent decision about whether to prosecute this case,” said Becca Glover Watkins, an Issa spokeswoman, in a statement.
Issa is seeking documents describing internal Justice Department discussions about a February 2011 letter to lawmakers that Holder later said mistakenly contained incorrect information.
The Justice Department says it has provided more than 7,600 pages of documents in the case.