In what was a win for House Republicans, a federal judge on Monday rejected U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s request to have a lawsuit dismissed that accuses the Obama administration of stonewalling congressional investigators with respect to the fatally-flawed Operation Fast and Furious.
“Neither legal nor prudential considerations support the dismissal of this action,” District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote in a 44-page ruling.
“This case presents the sort of question that the courts are traditionally called upon to resolve,” she continued. “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,” she wrote.
Last summer, Holder was cited with “contempt of Congress” for failing to turn over subpoenaed DOJ documents related to the botched gunrunning program. Though, despite the citation, Holder never complied with the subpoena because President Obama used his executive privilege powers to keep the documents from investigators.
Consequently, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform slapped the Obama administration with a lawsuit challenging the president’s use of executive privilege.
In the ensuing months, DOJ attorneys argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out and the court should not meddle in a spat between two branches of government. Jackson rejected that argument.
“Supreme Court precedent establishes that the third branch 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,” Jackson wrote.
However, the judge was careful to note that the ruling was only that the court could hear the case, not about whether Congressional investigators have a right to review the documents.
“This decision reflects only the determination that the court has jurisdiction to adjudicate the case. As the court specifically noted, this was not a decision about the validity of the assertion of executive privilege,” Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
Nevertheless, Republicans saw the ruling as a victory. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, called it “a repudiation of the Obama Justice Department.”
“This ruling is an important step toward the transparency and accountability the Obama Administration has refused to provide,” Issa said in a statement.
Under the auspices of the Department of Justice and the ATF, federal agents instructed law-abiding and responsible gun dealers to sell weapons to suspected straw purchasers who had ties to known Mexican drug cartels. The goal of Fast and Furious was to trace these firearms back to cartel leaders so that law enforcement, on both sides of the border, could make one big raid.
Of course, that never happened. In part, because Mexican officials were largely in the dark about the operation, but also because DOJ and ATF leadership proved to be grossly incompetent, as congressional investigators noted in a Joint Staff Report that extensively examined the operation.
“Though many senior Department officials were keenly aware of Fast and Furious, no one questioned the operation,” the report said. “No one ordered that Fast and Furious be shut down. Instead, senior Department officials let it continue to grow.”
Consequently, approximately 2,000 firearms crossed the U.S.-Mexico border undeterred. Approximately 1,400 of those firearms are still unaccounted for.
As one might imagine, the results of Fast and Furious have been deadly. Mexican authorities estimate that as many as 211 people were murdered with guns linked to Fast and Furious. That estimate does not include slain U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was fatally shot by cartel operatives in 2010 near the U.S.-Mexico border. At least one firearm linked to Fast and Furious was found at the scene. Terry’s untimely death is what sparked the congressional probe.
Perhaps, with this latest ruling, we’re one step closer to getting answers about who knew what, when they knew it and why they allowed such a misguided operation to continue for so long.