The Obama administration caved to a judge’s order Friday and sent documents from the botched Fast & Furious gun-running operation to Congress, complying with a subpoena the House Oversight Committee issued years ago.
President Obama had claimed executive privilege in trying to shield the documents from Congress, but a federal judge rejected that, insisting lawmakers had a right to see the information in order to complete their investigation into an operation that saw thousands of guns trafficked into Mexico, with the administration’s knowledge.
With just hours to go before the judge’s 60-day deadline, the administration complied Friday.
“As we’ve long asserted, the committee requires and is entitled to these documents. They are critical to the committee’s efforts to complete meaningful oversight,” Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz said in a statement after the documents were delivered to his office.
He also said, however, that the documents weren’t complete and the administration is still withholding some records, with the judge’s blessing, that he thinks Congress is entitled to see. The committee has filed an appeal of the case to try to get at those other records.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on the documents, but in a letter to Mr. Chaffetz Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik said they still disagree with Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s ruling, and he insisted her decision won’t affect future cases where Mr. Obama claims executive privilege.
“The balancing analysis contained in court’s order is expressly limited to the specific facts of this particular matter and will have little or no application outside of the unique factual circumstances therein,” he wrote.
Fast & Furious was begun by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) under Mr. Obama as a way to try to spot illicit gun sales in Arizona, near the U.S.-Mexico border. Agents knowingly allowed guns to be sold to traffickers who shipped them south, where they ended up in the hands of drug cartels.
The administration shut down the operation after the December 2010 death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was shot in an ambush. Two guns lost in the Fast & Furious operation were found at the scene of the shooting. Dozens of guns from the operation have also been recovered at crime scenes in Mexico.
The operation proved to be a severe embarrassment to Mr. Obama, whose Justice Department acknowledged misleading Congress. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. would eventually be voted in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the documents — though his department refused to pursue the citation against him.
An internal department investigation found severe problems with the operation, but the administration hampered Congress’s own probe.
Judge Jackson ruled earlier this year that because the administration had already let its own internal investigators see the materials and write up a report, the documents must also be made available to Congress.
Mr. Kadzik said she made “factual and legal errors” in that ruling, but said the administration decided not to appeal.