WASHINGTON (CN) – After shielding records on Fast and Furious, the bungled operation that let smugglers walk guns into Mexico so that agents could try and track them to the cartels, the Justice Department must explain what it withheld, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Judicial Watch, a government watchdog, sued the DOJ after the Obama administration claimed executive privilege in denying the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s request for the same documents related to a congressional investigation into the operation.
Though Judicial Watch’s complaint was stayed pending resolution of the House’s pre-existing claims, U.S. District Judge John Bates found Friday that the House’s lawsuit had advanced enough for proceedings in Judicial Watch’s case to continue.
“This court now concludes that this case may proceed without interfering with House Committee or upsetting the delicate balance of power between the branches,” Bates wrote. “To fully resolve this FOIA dispute, absent any settlement, the court will have to determine many issues logically antecedent to any constitutional question. That is because House Committee and this case are in very difference procedural postures.”
Bates also ordered the DOD to index its redacted and withheld information in the form of a Vaughn index.
DoD need not release any records, however, until the House’s case is resolved.
The Fast and Furious program was executed by the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. AFT 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 who purchased them.
The mission fell apart, however, after agents lost track of thousands of guns, some which turned up at the scene of the 2010 firefight in Arizona that resulted in the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry .
Faced with an investigation by Congress, the Justice Department initially sent a letter to the committee denying that guns had been allowed to walk across the border. It later informed Congress that the letter was incorrect.
When asked to produce records as to why the Department had made the denial, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released some documents, but withheld others under executive privilege, claiming that disclosure would reveal the agency’s deliberative processes.
Judicial Watch’s complaint came after the Justice Department’s denial of the committee’s request.