The House Oversight Committee, led by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), filed a civil lawsuit against Attorney General Eric Holder Monday for what Issa alleges was Holder’s failure to cooperate with a congressional subpoena.
Issa promised to sue after the House of Representatives found Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly failing to provide documents related to committee’s investigation into the botched ATF operation known as Fast and Furious.
Issa tweeted the news on Sunday night, referring to the civil lawsuit as “charges” against Holder. The lawsuit, filed in D.C. federal court midday Monday, contends that the Justice Department’s view of executive privilege goes too far.
“Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Attorney General’s conception of the reach of ‘Executive privilege,’ were it to be accepted, would cripple congressional oversight of Executive branch agencies, to the very great detriment of the Nation and our constitutional structure,” the lawsuit states.
Democrats swiftly condemned the suit as a waste of time and money.
“It seems clear that House Republican leaders do not want to resolve the contempt issue and prefer to generate unnecessary conflict with the administration as the election nears,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the Oversight Committee. “Unfortunately, the American public suffers as House Republicans disregard the real work that needs to be done.”
“At a time of scarce resources and record debt, the House is embarking on wasteful litigation against the Justice Department. We know how this will end — with a settlement that will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousand of dollars in attorneys fees and could have been resolved months ago if the House had been willing,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a statement. “This litigation will do nothing to shed light on the facts of Fast and Furious, to bring the killers of Agent Brian Terry to justice, or to stem the flow of guns across the border.”
The consequences of a contempt resolution are mostly political.
The Justice Department, under both parties, has held that the contempt statute is unenforceable when the president asserts executive privilege.
“I wouldn’t be [worried] if I were advising the attorney general, I’d say read the precedents and go about your business. Don’t worry about it, it’ll be 2014 before this gets resolved,” lawyer Stan Brand told TPM.
Late update: DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler issued this statement: “We were always willing to work with the Committee, instead the House and the Committee have said they prefer to litigate.”
The lawsuit is embedded below.