House Oversight Committee To File Contempt Suit Against Eric Holder
Just about six weeks after the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt over withholding documents subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee in its investigation of the Fast & Furious matter, today the Committee will file a civil lawsuit in Federal Court seeking to enforce the contempt citation:
(CBS News) CBS News has learned that the House Oversight Committee expects to file a civil contempt suit against Attorney General Eric Holder Monday. The lawsuit is to try to force Holder to release documents from the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation.
The Republican-led House of Representative voted to hold Holder in contempt on June 28 for failing to turn over thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents. The Justice Department has said it is withholding documents under White House executive privilege.
Seventeen Democrats voted with 238 Republicans in the 255-67 vote for contempt. Democratic leaders called the contempt vote a “political witch hunt.”
In a past subpoena dispute between Congress and the executive branch, a federal judge ordered the executive branch to turn over the disputed documents. However, before the executive branch could pursue an appeal, the two sides reached a compromise and certain documents were turned over.
The contempt vote had two possible tracks for enforcement: criminal and civil. But shortly after the House vote, the Department of Justice announced it would not pursue a criminal case against its own Attorney General and did not believe any crime had been committed. The civil lawsuit expected to be filed Monday would ask a federal judge to order the Justice Department to turn over the documents.
Of course, this case is complicated to some degree by the fact that the White House has claimed Executive Privilege over the documents in question, although as I explained in a post in June the claim involves the weaker form of the privilege since the documents do not involve direct communications with the President. All the same, neither side may want to argue the nuts and bolts of Executive Privilege and get a legal ruling that will have an impact on future proceedings. Indeed, the last time a matter such as this was before a Court, the parties ended up settling their dispute before getting a ruling on the privilege issue. That may happen in this case as well notwithstanding how the fact that both sides have dug in their heels. For Congress, there’s the desire to avoid the possibility of an adverse ruling on the Executive Privilege issue. For the White House, there’s the fact that, polling has shown that the public approves of Holder being held in contempt and does not approve of the exercise of privilege in this matter, so it may be best to get this resolved long before the election. Of course, none of this would be happening if the Dept. of Justice had been more forthcoming in responding to Congress exercising it’s job to oversee the Executive Branch.
Update: Here’s a copy of the Complaint, which was filed this morning: