As his committee officially filed a lawsuit today against Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he asserted privilege over Justice Department documents related to Fast and Furious.
“President Obama exceeded his authority by asserting executive privilege over subpoenaed documents related to the Justice Department’s cover-up of Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement. “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.”
The House committee filed a lawsuit against Holder in federal court today, asking the court to compel Holder to hand over documents related to the botched gun-walking investigation. The committee is asking for Obama’s assertion of privilege to be thrown out and for the documents to be disclosed to the committee.
The lawsuit (read it in full here) contends that the documents at issue do not contain any information that would fall under the president’s privilege authority, namely deliberative information with the president.
“Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Attorney General’s conception of the reach of ‘Executive privilege,’ were it to be accepted, would cripple congressional oversight of Executive branch agencies, to the very great detriment of the Nation and our constitutional structure,” the lawsuit alleges.
Issa’s committee is seeking thousands of additional documents from the Justice Department that relate to its handling of the botched gun-walking investigation. Holder has said he cannot release certain documents because they pertain to ongoing investigations. The president asserted executive privilege over the subpoeaned documents just minutes before the House Oversight Committee voted to advance the contempt of Congress measure against Holder. In late June, the full House voted by a 255-67 margin to find Holder in contempt. Within days, the Justice Department announced it would not pursue the criminal contempt charges in court.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the department has been open about finding a compromise with the committee.
“We were always willing to work with the Committee, instead the House and the Committee have said they prefer to litigate,” Schmaler said in an email.
Now, the GOP-lead committee is seeking the courts to compel Holder to disclose the information.
“The Attorney General’s response to the Holder Subpoena has been consistent with the Department’s overall response to the Committee’s investigation: slow and woefully incomplete,” the lawsuit states.
The House Oversight Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said Monday that the lawsuit is a continuation of the GOP’s political witch hunt.
“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 in a statement. “Unfortunately, the American public suffers as House Republicans disregard the real work that needs to be done.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also sounded off on Monday, saying the “litigation will do nothing to shed light on the facts of Fast and Furious.”
“At a time of scarce resources and record debt, the House is embarking on wasteful litigation against the Justice Department. We know how this will end — with a settlement that will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousand of dollars in attorneys fees and could have been resolved months ago if the House had been willing. The Attorney General put a reasonable offer on the table well before the contempt vote, and the House needs to show the same willingness to come to agreement.
The House committee is being represented by House General Counsel Kerry W. Kircher.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comment from Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)