House lawyers late Monday filed court papers asking a federal judge to force the Justice Department to turn over records to reveal the extent of efforts to stonewall a congressional probe into a botched weapons investigation known as Fast and Furious.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants the records to wrap up its probe, which has shifted from the bungled gun-walking operation to “an apparent effort, over a period of many months, by high level DOJ officials” to hinder the investigation, lawyers argued in a court pleading filed Tuesday night in federal court in Washington.
The request marks the latest development in a long, bitter battle for access to documents, which has already seen the House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
House lawyers also rejected Mr. Holder’s claim to withhold documents based on an exemption known as deliberative process.
“But deciding how to stiff Congress and spin the media is simply not a ‘policy’ to which the privilege attaches,” House General Counsel Kerry W. Kircher argued in the pleading.
The House is seeking summary judgment through the filing, which is a legal request to have the judge decide the matter without trial based on undisputed facts.
Mr. Kircher said the deliberative process exemption is designed to promote open and frank discussion among top-level agency decision-makers. But “it is not designed to promote discussions — open and frank or otherwise — among high-level Executive Branch officials about how to subvert a congressional investigation,” he added
Mr. Kircher also cited the Supreme Court’s decision during the Watergate scandal that congression interest in obtaining information to support its legislative function overcame the presidential communications privilege.
The records are needed because the House probe could suggest the need for “additions to, or modification of, existing federal laws,” lawyers argued.
Such changes could include the reorganization of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by removing it from under Justice Department control, creating a department ombudsman and “resurrecting some form of independent counsel to prosecute criminal wrong-doing by high-level executive branch officials,” lawyers wrote.
Congress has been probing the Fast and Furious investigation for years. The ATF investigation allowed thousands of guns to be sold to straw buyers who took then across the border into Mexico. The investigation ended when two weapons were found where a Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was shot to death.