WASHINGTON – The Justice Department said Friday that it had given to Congress additional documents related to the botched gun-smuggling operation known as Fast and Furious.
The Obama administration had for the last four years refused to provide the records to House Republicans, invoking a claim of executive privilege.
But a federal judge in January turned aside that argument, saying a blanket assertion of executive privilege was inappropriate since the Justice Department had already disclosed through other channels much of the information it had sought to withhold.
In a letter Friday, the Justice Department said it was moving to end the legal dispute with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform by providing the documents even though it continued to disagree with the order from Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
"In addition, in light of the passage of time and other considerations, such as the department's interest in moving past this litigation and building upon our cooperative relationship with the committee and other congressional committees, the department has decided that it is not in the executive branch's interest to continue litigating this issue at this time," Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik, head of the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs, wrote in a letter to committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican.
House Republicans sued in 2012 to obtain thousands of emails related to the failed effort by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to track guns across the Southwest border. Under that operation, ATF allowed gunrunners to buy weapons in hopes of tracking them and disrupting Mexican gun-smuggling rings.
Revelations of the operation created a political firestorm and set off a documents dispute between then-Attorney General Eric Holder and Congress that resulted in Holder being held in contempt of Congress.
The Justice Department had already produced tens of thousands of pages of documents, but Congress continued to seek records that the department argued it was entitled to withhold.
The department said that, in producing the documents Friday, it had completed its obligations under the court order.
Chaffetz said in a statement that while the department had turned over "some of the subpoenaed documents," the committee remains entitled to "the full range of documents for which it brought this lawsuit." He said the committee was appealing in hopes of getting additional documents.