WASHINGTON—Remember Operation Fast and Furious? That’s the government gun-walking scheme that left a border patrol agent dead and prompted a congressional investigation. It’s also one of President Barack Obama’s designated “phony” scandals.
This week a U.S. District Court judge denied Attorney General Eric Holder’s request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in response to the Justice Department’s refusal to turn over relevant documents in the case. Holder had argued the dispute could only be settled through negotiation and accommodation between the two branches, and judiciary involvement would constitute improper interference.
In a 44-page decision, Judge Amy Berman Jackson—an Obama appointee—wrote, “Supreme Court precedent establishes that the third branch of government has an equally fundamental role to play, and that judges not only may, but sometimes must, exercise their responsibility to interpret the Constitution and determine whether another branch has exceeded its power.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight committee, called the ruling a “repudiation” of the Justice Department and congressional Democrats who argued the courts should have no role in the matter. Obama asserted executive privilege over the subpoenaed documents in June 2012, leading the committee to hold Holder in contempt of Congress—a first for a sitting cabinet member—for failing to produce them.
“I remain confident in the merits of the House’s decision to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt,” Issa said. “This ruling is an important step toward the transparency and accountability the Obama administration has refused to provide.”
Jackson rebuked the administration’s assertion of an “unreviewable right to withhold documents” from the legislative branch, calling it an offense to the Constitution. She quoted from the landmark United States v. Nixon case, which in 1974 denied similar executive attempts to suppress documents during the Watergate investigation.
Operation Fast and Furious, which began in 2009, was intended to stem the flow of firearms to drug cartels in Mexico. The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) allowed straw purchasers to carry arms across the border in an effort to track where they ended up. Investigators believe some 2,000 weapons fell into the hands of drug traffickers with very little effort put into tracking them.