House committee sues Holder to force subpoena compliance

[JURIST] A US House of Representatives [official website] committee filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Monday seeking to compel Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] to produce subpoenaed documents relating to a failed arms-tracking operation. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee [official website] has been investigating Operation Fast and Furious [materials] since April 2011, and its filing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] requests that the court order Holder to deliver a specific subset of documents subpoenaed by the committee in October and withheld by Holder under an assertion of executive privilege [Cornell LII backgrounder]:

The principal legal issue presented here is whether the Attorney General may withhold that limited subset on the basis of "Executive privilege" where there has been no suggestion that the documents at issue implicate or otherwise involve any advice to the President, and where the Department's actions do not involve core constitutional functions of the President. ... Accordingly, the Committee asks this Court to reject the Attorney General's assertion of "Executive privilege" and order him forthwith to comply with the Committee's subpoena.
Committee chairman Representative Darrell Issa [official website; press release] stated that the lawsuit is meant to overcome "a meritless claim of privilege" on the part of the executive, while ranking committee member Representative Elijah Cummings [official website; press release] contended that the lawsuit is designed to "generate unnecessary conflict" with the administration of President Barack Obabma [official website] during an election year.

Operation Fast and Furious was a Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] investigation involving tracked guns that were permitted to travel from Arizona to Mexico in an attempt to stop weapons trafficking by high-level arms dealers. In June the DOJ announced that it will not prosecute Holder after the Oversight Committee voted to hold him in contempt of Congress [JURIST reports] for failing to fully comply with the committee's subpoenas. Upon being held in contempt Holder responded [press release], "Today's vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided—and politically motivated—investigation during an election year," and stated he would continue to focus on the government's job of protecting the American people. Obama ultimately asserted executive privilege on the subpoenaed documents, effectively rendering the contempt charge moot. The DOJ submitted a joint staff report [report, PDF] to the committee in July 2011, discussing the effects of the admittedly failed operation in Mexico. The committee had originally begun investigating the operation [press release] through the DOJ's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives [official website] in April of that year.

 

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