A U.S. District Court judge appointed by President Barack Obama has struck down the Justice Department's request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Republican-controlled House over public records related to the gunrunning Operation Fast and Furious.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Attorney General Eric Holder that his refusal to turn over documents related to the operation — and President Obama's assertion of executive privilege to keep them hidden — was an overreach.
Jackson called the department's legal arguments in the case "flawed and selective," Politico reported
Fast and Furious was an undercover effort of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to allow guns to be smuggled across the Mexican border in the hope they would lead agents to drug cartel kingpins. However most of the weapons went missing
"This case presents the sort of question that the courts are traditionally called upon to resolve," the judge said in her 44-page ruling. "Dismissing the case without hearing it would in effect place the court’s finger on the scale, designating the executive as the victor based solely on his untested assertion that the privilege applies."
The House held Holder in contempt for refusing to hand over the documents and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said the ruling vindicates that decision.
"I remain confident in the merits of the House's decision to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt," said Issa, a California Republican. "This ruling is an important step toward the transparency and accountability the Obama Administration has refused to provide."
Issa called Jackson's ruling "a repudiation of the Obama Justice Department and Congressional Democrats who argued the courts should have no role in the dispute over President Obama's improper assertion of executive privilege to protect an attempted Justice Department cover-up of Operation Fast and Furious."
Lawyers at the Justice Department had argued that if the judge got involved, it could lead to legal fighting between the executive branch and Congress over records rather than proper negotiations between the parties.
"The Court rejects the notion that merely hearing this dispute between the branches would undermine the foundation of our government, or that it would lead to the abandonment of all negotiation and accommodation in the future, leaving the courts deluged with subpoena enforcement actions," Jackson wrote in her ruling, refusing to dismiss the House lawsuit.
Her ruling does not apply to the merits of whether Obama had a right to invoke executive privilege involving records that were never given to his office. She said that matter was also something for the courts to consider.
"The Court cautions that this opinion should not be taken as any indication of its views on the merits of the dispute, which have yet to be briefed, argued, or considered in any way," Jackson wrote.
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