The Justice Department agreed to a conditional settlement Wednesday with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to produce documents related to a flawed law enforcement initiative known as Operation Fast and Furious.
The department will turn over files and emails of then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and other top officials related to its responses to Congress and the committee’s oversight investigation, as well as documents in certain date ranges and with specific search terms such as “executive privilege.”
A copy of the agreement was filed Wednesday in federal court in Washington, where judges will have to approve the settlement. DOJ said the move will end six years of litigation “arising out of the previous administration’s refusal to produce documents” that the committee had requested. President Barack Obama had asserted executive privilege over documents on the grounds that disclosure would reveal the department’s deliberative process.
“The Department of Justice under my watch is committed to transparency and the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news release. “This settlement agreement is an important step to make sure that the public finally receives all the facts related to Operation Fast and Furious.”
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The settlement would wind down the legal side of one of the most high-profile and enduring separation-of-powers fights between House Republicans and the Obama administration.
The Oversight Committee under then-Chairman Darrell Issa of California filed a lawsuit in 2012 to get access to the records. Issa had contended the records would show DOJ covered up the Fast and Furious program launched in 2009 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which the government lost track of guns it was trying to trace to Mexican drug cartels.
The weapons had been traced to crimes such as the 2010 murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Fast and Furious was halted in 2011.
The dispute escalated until the House voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress in 2012 for not releasing the documents, after which the committee filed the lawsuit.
Most recently, in 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the Obama administration to turn over some records it sought to withhold from congressional investigators, but the House appealed that ruling because she also denied some committee requests for administration documents.
That appeal has been pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as the House and Trump administration negotiated a settlement.
The settlement says the agreement is contingent on the courts vacating two rulings from Jackson, which would “obviate the need for the courts to decide a dispute between the political branches that those branches are now prepared to resolve amicably.”