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A lawsuit filed today by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) alleged Attorney General Eric Holder is standing on a "legally baseless" claim in refusing to provide internal Justice Department documents relating to the "Fast and Furious" gun walking investigation.
"No Court has ever held that 'Executive privilege' extends anywhere near as far as the Attorney General here contends that it does," the legal complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said. President Barack Obama on June 20 asserted executive privilege in backing Holder's refusal to turn over some documents subpoenaed by the committee.
Holder said in a June 19 letter to Obama that releasing the documents in question would have "significant, damaging consequences" because it would "inhibit the candor" of future internal deliberations at the DOJ. But the House moved forward anyway on June 28 and voted to find Holder in contempt of Congress.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Oversight panel, dismissed the suit as a partisan stunt. "It seems clear that House Republican leaders do not want to resolve the contempt issue and prefer to generate unnecessary conflict with the administration as the election nears," Cummings said.
The case was assigned to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee.
In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns to "walk," which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels. The tactic, intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes, was condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at the 2010 murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Issa's complaint contains a long, detailed history of his committee's attempts to secure the documents at issue. It does not contain a lengthy legal argument about the scope of Congress' oversight authorities.
The history includes informal requests, documents provided by whistleblowers, two subpoenas and eventually holding Holder in contempt of Congress.
Early in the investigation, DOJ officials broadly denied that the tactics in Fast and Furious had ever been used, saying in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that any such allegations were "false."
Ten months later, the DOJ conceded the letter contained inaccuracies and rescinded it. Holder has said Fast and Furious was "fundamentally flawed."