The ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform filed an amicus brief Wednesday asking for dismissal of the contempt lawsuit brought by House Republicans against Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in the botched "Fast and Furious" gunrunning investigation.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland said the court should exercise its discretion and dismiss the lawsuit because the committee failed in its constitutional obligation to avoid unnecessary conflict, to take reasonable measures to accommodate the legitimate interests of the executive branch, and to seek information from other available sources.
Mr. Cummings' brief was joined by Democratic Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California and Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, all of whom previously served as oversight committee chairmen.
According to the brief, the committee failed to obtain testimony from former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Acting Director Kenneth Melson, whom the filing described as "the single most important official in the investigation."
"Director Melson's hearing testimony was fundamental to this investigation, and was requested more than 10 separate times by members of the Committee," the brief says. "The committee's decision not to call Director Melson denied committee members the opportunity to pursue one of the most critical avenues of information-gathering that remains available to this day, and caused many to question whether the committee was truly in search of the facts.
"Although it is certainly the committee's prerogative to forgo these basic investigative steps, the committee may not then claim in this litigation that it pursued all available sources of information prior to holding the attorney general in contempt," it says.
Mr. Cummings said the committee also disregarded a comprehensive report by the Justice Department's office of inspector general that undermined the committee's two key accusations. He said the inspector general found that Mr. Holder did not authorize, approve or know about guns being walked over the border unimpeded in the Fast and Furious operation, and that department officials did not deliberately mislead Congress.
He also said House Republicans rushed the contempt vote in the oversight committee, rushed it again on the House floor, and then rushed to the courthouse to file this lawsuit.
"The committee's actions raised concerns that it was and is more focused on the partisan goal of holding the attorney general in contempt than on the legislative goal of obtaining information pertinent to its investigation."
The brief sides with House Republicans in arguing that Congress has the authority to demand documents as part of legitimate oversight and may seek enforcement of duly authorized subpoenas.
In this case, however, Mr. Cummings said the brief proposes that the court direct the committee and the Justice Department to go back to the negotiating table to resolve this conflict in a manner that recognizes and accommodates the legitimate interests of both parties.
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