House Republicans filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against Attorney General Eric Holder, the country's top law enforcement official, seeking to obtain documents on a botched operation to link Arizona gun sales to Mexican drug cartels.
The suit likely means the debate over the anti-gun-trafficking operation nicknamed "Fast and Furious" will go on for months, lasting through the U.S. elections on Nov. 6 when Democratic President Barack Obama is likely to face Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Republicans' focus on Fast and Furious has helped to energize gun owners, who are a large and important voting bloc in presidential swing states such as Pennsylvania and tend to vote Republican.
The suit asks for documents Republicans say are critical to their investigation of the operation, but Obama has claimed executive privilege. In June, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to hold Holder in contempt for withholding the documents.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said the lawsuit was necessary because the Obama administration was "stonewalling."
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the department, which Holder runs, was "always willing to work with the committee."
"Instead the House and the committee have said they prefer to litigate," she said.
Some legal analysts said it should not have taken more than six weeks from the June 28 contempt vote for Republicans to file their suit. Basic elements of the case were contained in the House's citation for contempt, they said.
"Frankly it suggests that they don't expect to win quickly," said Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and a former House acting general counsel.
It will take months for the case to work its way through the U.S. District Court and any appeals process that might follow, legal analysts said.
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