Judiciary Can Sort Out Fast and Furious Dispute
WASHINGTON (CN) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's assertion the judiciary must stand aside in a dispute between a congressional committee and the Justice Department over its bungled Fast and Furious operation is off the mark, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson ruled that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does have standing to sue Holder despite what the attorney general called "an unprecedented expansion of the role of an Article III court."
The committee sued Holder last year over his declaration of executive privilege in withholding documents regarding his department's inaccurate denial of the existence of the Fast and Furious gun-walking program.
"The Court is mindful that 'federal courts may exercise power only in the last resort ... and only when adjudication is consistent with a system of separated powers and [the dispute is one] traditionally though to be capable of resolutions through the judicial process," writes Judge Jackson, citing Allen v. Wright. "But here, the narrow legal question posed by the complaint is precisely the sort of crisp legal issue that courts are well-equipped to address and routinely called upon to resolve."
The legal issue is Congress' subpoena seeking documents that would "illuminate how the Department came to incorrectly deny" the existence of the program.
The Fast and Furious program was executed by the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ATF agents knowingly allowed firearms purchased illegally in the United States to be unlawfully transferred to third-parties and transported into Mexico in hopes that the guns would lead ATF agents to the cartel leaders that purchased them.
But the mission fell apart after agents lost track of thousands of guns, some of which turned up at the scene of the 2010 firefight in Arizona that resulted in the death of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry's death.
Congress launched an investigation into Fast and Furious prompting the Justice Department to send a letter to the committee denying that guns had been allowed to walk across the border, but later informed Congress that the letter was incorrect.
When asked to produce records as to why the Department had made the denial, Holder released some documents, but withheld others under executive privilege, claiming that disclosure would reveal the agency's deliberative processes.
"The lawsuit before the Court does not address the existence of the operation or the propriety of those tactics," states the judge. "The facts have been uncovered; the risks inherent in the operation - risks that were tragically realized in the death of a federal law enforcement officer - have been exposed; and the Department has issued clear directives prohibiting similar conduct in the future."
The judge concluded, that "this opinion does not grapple with the scope of the President's privilege: it simply rejects the notion that it is an unreviewable privilege when asserted in response to a legislative demand."