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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Justice Department Seeks to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Operation Fast and Furious

The Justice Department has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by the House oversight committee seeking to compel the Obama administration to release more internal records involving the botched gun-trafficking case known as Operation Fast and Furious.

The judiciary should play no role in a dispute like this one between the executive and legislative branches, the department said - one in which the White House has asserted executive privilege over its internal deliberations, and the House of Representatives has voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for refusing to comply with the committee's demands.

“Disputes of this sort have arisen regularly since the founding,” the department said in a brief filed Monday night in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. “For just as long, these disputes have been resolved between the political branches through a constitutionally grounded system of negotiation, accommo dation, and self-help.”

The dispute generated by the long-running investigation of the gun operation by the House Committee on Government Operations and Oversight, led by Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, culminated last month in an exhaustive report by the Justice Department's independent inspector general, which scathingly criticized federal officials for their handling of the fiasco but essentially exonerated Mr. Holder.

The House committee has not had as much access to internal documents as the inspector general, and is seeking access to internal records about the administration's response to the committee's investigations. Although voluminous records were handed over, the committee wants more, in part to see whether its own investigation was obstructed.

For the court to intervene, as the committee has sought, “would dramatically alter the separation of powers,” the Justice Department's brief argu ed.

Operation Fast and Furious has been a deeply divisive political issue from the outset, as the committee's politically charged hearings and the contempt citation against Mr. Holder made clear.

Referring to the wrangling between Congress and the administration, the agency's brief says that the process of seeking accommodations “is political, and often disorderly and contentious, and the ultimate resolution often reflects a variety of considerations and compromises on both sides. But it is precisely the inherently political nature of the process of confrontation and resolution that makes it ill-suited for judicial review.”

The botched investigation into a gunrunning network linked to a Mexican drug gang began in late 2009, and was shut down in early 2011 after two guns linked to the case were found near the site where a Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed.