House files lawsuit to force Holder to release Fast and Furious docs

The House Oversight Committee filed a civil lawsuit in federal court Monday against Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

Republican Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.) said the move was in response to a “political maneuver” by President Obama to assert executive privilege over documents that GOP leadership and Issa had requested from the Justice Department.

“Waiting nearly eight months after the subpoena had been issued to assert a meritless claim of privilege, the President’s decision was a calculated political maneuver designed to stop the release of documents until after November’s elections,” Issa said in a statement following the lawsuit’s filing.

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In June, the GOP House overwhelmingly passed resolutions holding the attorney general in contempt of Congress for not complying with a congressional subpoena to provide documents related to the botched operation, which sought to track gun sales to Mexican drug gangs.

The decision to file civil charges comes after the DOJ announced it would not prosecute Holder after the contempt vote. One of the House resolutions, however, granted Issa’s Oversight Committee authority to pursue a civil action against Holder.

The lawsuit is seeking, in part, a cache of internal documents and communications between DOJ and Obama administration officials over a 10-month period when they considered whether to retract a letter to Congress because it contained inaccurate information.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday charged both Holder and Obama with obstructing Congress’s duty to provide oversight of the executive branch. The civil suit was filed on Monday by the House’s general counsel on behalf of the Oversight Committee in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. 

“After providing — then retracting — inaccurate information to Congress, Attorney General Holder has gone to extraordinary lengths to block access to subpoenaed documents and deny the efforts of the Terry family to get the truth,” said Boehner in a statement, referring to Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. A weapon sold under Fast and Furious was found at the scene of Terry’s murder along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The White House has been complicit in this effort to hide the truth by making executive privilege claims that have no merit, which is why today’s action is necessary,” Boehner added.

Democrats, however, blasted Issa on Monday, accusing the powerful chairman of wasting taxpayer money.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the lawsuit a political stunt aimed at diverting the DOJ’s resources away from attacking voter ID laws in states where the agency contends they make it harder for minorities to vote.

“This partisan lawsuit wastes taxpayer dollars and resources, and is a distraction from the urgent business before Congress: acting to create jobs and grow our economy,” Pelosi said in a statement. “It is also designed to distract the Justice Department from its critical job of challenging state laws designed to restrict the rights of Americans to vote.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the GOP was forcing an "unnecessary conflict with the administration as the election nears."

"Unfortunately, the American public suffers as House Republicans disregard the real work that needs to be done," he added.

Legal experts believe the case could lead to a long court battle.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the protracted legal fight could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and will not help solve the killing of Terry. 

"At a time of scarce resources and record debt, the House is embarking on wasteful litigation against the Justice Department,” Schiff said.

"This litigation will do nothing to shed light on the facts of Fast and Furious, to bring the killers of Agent Brian Terry to justice or to stem the flow of guns across the border."

The Justice Department and White House have defended the decision not to criminally prosecute Holder, saying it was longstanding practice for administrations from both parties not to prosecute officials held in contempt.

Republicans who have conducted their own investigation into Fast and Furious, though, have questioned the independence of the DOJ.

After the House voted to hold him in criminal contempt, Holder criticized the action as the latest step in a “misguided, and politically motivated, investigation during an election year.”

The Justice Department has turned over 7,600 pages of documents in response to the congressional probe, but Holder has resisted further subpoenas, claiming that additional disclosures would harm ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Holder has testified before Congress that top Justice officials were unaware of the program and moved quickly to stop the operation once they were apprised of its details. 

Last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is spearheading the Senate investigation, demanded additional documents from Holder, saying they will clarify when exactly senior DOJ officials were first told about the operation.

— Updated at 1:32 p.m.