House’s Quest for ‘Fast & Furious’ Records Closed


     WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge on Monday ended the three-and-a-half year legal feud between the Justice Department and Congress over the Justice Department’s response to the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal.
     The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform filed the lawsuit in August 2012 as part of its effort to force the Department of Justice to turn over records related to Operation Fast and Furious, a program through which the government allowed drug cartels to illegally purchase guns in the United States so law enforcement could follow them once they reached Mexico.
     The program became a scandal when one of the guns was used to kill a law enforcement officer in 2010.
     The Justice Department partially responded to the committee’s Oct. 11, 2011 subpoena, but did not release any documents created after Feb. 4, 2011. The committee then threatened to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
     Eventually, the department told the committee President Barack Obama had claimed executive privilege over some of the documents the committee was after, which caused the committee to file suit in August 2012 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     The committee claimed the documents it sought were not covered under executive privilege because they did not concern direct conversation between the department and the president. The ensuing lawsuit eventually forced the department to turn over 64,000 additional pages, as well as a detailed list of records it thought were privileged.
     In January, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the Justice Department to turn over records detailing the department’s internal deliberations over how to handle congressional and media inquiries into the Fast and Furious scandal, determining the committee’s need for the records outstripped the department’s claim of privilege.
     Shortly after the ruling, the Justice Department petitioned Jackson for an extension of time to produce the documents. The committee promptly opposed the request and urged Jackson to enter final judgment, which she did on Monday.
     Jackson suspended the deadline for the department to produce the documents and asked the department if it agreed with the committee that the case should be closed, which it eventually did.
     The Justice Department has until April to produce documents related to its response to congressional and media inquiries into the Fast and Furious scandal, according to the final judgment.
     Monday’s decision to close the case is not much of a surprise, as Jackson strongly hinted in her January opinion that her role in the case might be over.
     “In the end, the court did not – and it should not – accept an assignment to supervise the entire contentious relationship between these parties,” Jackson wrote in the Jan. 19 opinion. “It took jurisdiction over the single, legal issue presented by the complaint, and what the lawsuit is about is clear.”
     The Department of Justice has 60 days to appeal Jackson’s final judgment.

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