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Constitutional Law

House Committee Sues AG Holder for Civil Contempt, Asks Judge to Nix Obama Executive Privilege Claim

Posted Aug 13, 2012 1:30 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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U.S. Attorney General
Eric Holder. Rena Schild
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Setting the stage for a constitutional showdown during a presidential election year, an expected effort has begun to enforce a historic contempt citation of a sitting U.S. attorney general by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this summer.

On Monday, the House Oversight Committee filed a federal civil contempt lawsuit asking a judge to order Eric Holder to turn over Department of Justice documents sought in a congressional investigation of a botched U.S. weapons-tracking program, CNN Politics reports.

The suit also seeks a ruling nixing an executive privilege claim by President Barack Obama concerning the documents sought by House investigators concerning the so-called Operation Fast and Furious program.

Calling the president's assertion of the privilege "legally baseless," the complaint argues that "no court has ever held that 'executive privilege' extends anywhere near as far as the attorney general here contends that it does," Roll Call reports. It was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Each side is claiming that the other is politically motivated in its handling of the investigative impasse.

"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, committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-California said in a written statement.

But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi fired back in a competing written statement, contending that "This partisan lawsuit wastes taxpayer dollars and resources, and is a distraction from the urgent business before Congress: acting to create jobs and grow our economy. It is also designed to distract the Justice Department from its critical job of challenging state laws designed to restrict the rights of Americans to vote."

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives oversaw the Fast and Furious program, which was operated from Arizona. Modeled after similar efforts under President George W. Bush, it was intended to track weapons being sent to Mexican drug cartels but reportedly lost track of some 1,000 firearms. Two were later found at the scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent's slaying.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg also have stories.

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "House Cites Attorney General Eric Holder for Contempt of Congress; AG Calls Vote ‘Grave Disservice’"

ABAJournal.com: "DOJ Won’t Prosecute AG Holder re US House Contempt Citation"

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