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House Panel Sues Holder Over ‘Fast and Furious’ Subpoenas

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. House committee sued Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce subpoenas in its probe of the Justice Department’s “Operation Fast and Furious,” a bid to track the flow of illegal weapons to Mexican drug cartels.

The lawsuit by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee stems from an investigation initiated by the committee in February into so-called “gun walking,” which allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. in an effort to link the weapons to Mexican gangs. Holder, citing executive privilege, has refused to give lawmakers some material they wanted.

“The attorney general’s intransigence has prevented the committee from completing its investigation,” the panel said in the lawsuit filed today in federal court in Washington.

Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment on the suit.

The House, controlled by Republicans, 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 the Fast and Furious operation, hadn’t “knowingly allowed” the tactics in the law enforcement operation to be employed.

‘Unnecessary Conflict’

Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement that “House Republicans do not want to resolve the contempt issue and prefer to generate unnecessary conflict with the administration as the election nears.”

The Justice Department says it has provided more than 7,600 pages of documents in the case.

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.

Executive privilege is a principle that asserts the executive branch can’t be required by Congress to disclose confidential communications because their release would harm the operations of the White House.

Republicans have made the nation’s top law enforcement officer one of their main targets in the Obama administration. More than 100 Republican lawmakers have called for Holder’s resignation over his handling of Fast and Furious, terrorism and other matters.

“Initially, the committee attempted to obtain necessary documents from the department through informal means,” the committee said in the court filing. “The department actively resisted cooperating fully with the committee’s investigation from the very outset.”

The case is Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder, 1:12-cv-01332, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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