U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asked a court to throw out a lawsuit by a House of Representatives committee seeking to enforce subpoenas in its probe of the Justice Department’s effort to track the flow of illegal weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
Holder said that under the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers, conflict over the “Operation Fast and Furious” program should be resolved between the political branches, according to his filing yesterday in federal court in Washington.
The committee isn’t pursuing documents concerning how the executive branch executed the laws at issue, according to the filing. Instead, it seeks documents created after the operation ended, including “deliberative communications” among Justice Department officials about how to respond to congressional and media inquiries.
The suit “now asks this court to enter the fray and decide whether the committee’s remaining interest in pursuing the so-called ‘obstruction component’ of its investigation outweighs the executive’s interest in protecting its internal deliberations,” according to the filing.
The lawsuit, filed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in August, 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 want.
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.
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.
Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is chairman of the committee, said in an e-mailed statement today that the Obama administration and the federal government are “perpetuating a cover-up,” and advancing arguments rejected by federal courts that “our court system does not have jurisdiction to ensure accountability.”
The case is Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder, 1:12-cv-01332, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).