The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sued Attorney General Eric Holder in federal court Monday, asking the court to enforce a subpoena for documents related to its investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal.
The House of Representatives, led by Republicans, held Holder in contempt of Congress on June 28. Seventeen Democrats voted with all Republicans present to pass the measure. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led a walkout with many Democrats to protest the contempt charge.
Holder heads the Justice Department, which would normally be in charge of enforcing the contempt vote. After the vote, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue a criminal case. The House wants, therefore, a federal court to enforce the contempt vote and require Holder to turn over the documents.
President Barack Obama exerted executive privilege in the case on the eve of the Oversight Committee's vote to recommend contempt to the full House.
In a statement, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said that Obama "exceeded his authority by asserting executive privilege" over the documents related to the investigation.
"Operation Fast and Furious" was a Justice Department program that sold guns to drug dealers as part of a sting operation. Agents did not track the weapons after they sold them. Some of those weapons were found on the scene after a shootout that led to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Justice Department officials first told the House Oversight Committee in February 2011 that the weapons were being tracked. In December 2011 the Justice Department admitted this was not true. The subpoena seeks documents related to understanding why the Justice Department misinformed Congress for those eight months.
Issa complained that Obama's executive privilege claim was an attempt to delay resolution of the case until after the November election.
"Waiting nearly eight months after the subpoena had been issued to assert a meritless claim of privilege, the President's decision was a calculated political maneuver designed to stop the release of documents until after November's elections. After promising an unprecedented level of transparency, the President is attempting to expand the reach of executive privilege to obstruct the truth about the reckless conduct that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol Agent and countless Mexican citizens," Issa said.