Justice Dep’t Settles With House Panel on ‘Fast & Furious’ Records

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Justice Department agreed Wednesday to release records on the gun-running scandal Operation Fast & Furious, which led to a contempt finding against former Attorney General Eric Holder.

If approved, the settlement would effectively end a nearly six-year court battle between the Justice Department and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which filed suit in 2012 to enforce a subpoena against Holder in its investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.

Operation Fast & Furious came about in the Obama administration. A brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the operation meant to root out drug cartels in Mexico by allowing straw purchasers to sell them guns.

As House investigators reported last year, however, the Justice Department lost roughly 2,000 guns involved in the operation, including two assault rifles found at the scene of a firefight between armed bandits and federal law enforcement officers that left Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry dead.

After President Barack Obama claimed executive privilege on a set of documents related to the investigation, the House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena that resulted in the House of Representatives voting to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.

A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department on multiple occasions to produce documents to the committee.

Wednesday’s settlement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A motion accompanying the deal asks U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to put out an indicative ruling asking the D.C. Circuit to send back the committee’s appeal of a 2016 final judgment in the case.

Jackson would then vacate two orders in the case and the Justice Department would have 30 days to start turning over documents. The department would also start a new search of emails and other records and will have six months to provide the committee with whatever new records it turns up.

Under the proposed settlement, the committee must store the documents on a computer that is not connected to the internet and cannot publicly disclose any of the newly produced documents without giving the Justice Department a week’s notice.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee while it investigated Operation Fast and Furious, said the decision to release additional documents in the case is an effort to increase transparency at the Justice Department.

“The Department of Justice under my watch is committed to transparency and the rule of law,” Sessions said in a statement Wednesday. “This settlement agreement is an important step to make sure that the public finally receives all the facts related to Operation Fast and Furious.”

A spokeswoman for the House committee on Wednesday hailed the agreement as a hard-won victory for the panel’s investigation.

“For over six years, the House Oversight Committee has fought for additional documents related to Operation Fast and Furious,” spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez said in a statement. “Today, the committee finally reached a conditional settlement with the Department of Justice. The committee seeks all relevant facts so we can learn from the mistakes made by the Justice Department. We have a responsibility to uncover why they worked so hard to hide this information from the committee, the family of Brian Terry and the American people.”

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