The U.S. Department of Justice struck back on Tuesday against House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa’s push to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for his failure to comply with a congressional subpoena related to Operation Fast and Furious.
“We believe that a contempt proceeding would be unwarranted given the information the Department has disclosed to the Committee to date; unprecedented given the law enforcement sensitivities at issue; and ill-advised given the damage it would cause to relations between the Executive and Legislative Branches,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote to Issa on behalf of the DOJ.
“The Committee’s concerns about the Department’s response to the October 11 subpoena appear predicated on a misunderstanding both of the extraordinary lengths the Department has gone to respond to the Committee’s requests, of of the threat that disclosures of sensitive law enforcement information would pose to open criminal investigations and prosecutions,” Cole continued. “Furthermore, we believe that the core questions posed by the Committee about Operation Fast and Furious have been answered.”
Cole suggested that documents proving high-level Department of Justice officials had knowledge of Fast and Furious “do not exist.”
“[T]he lack of documents makes clear,” Cole wrote, “that these tactics had their origin in the field in Arizona and not among Department leaders in Washington.”
Holder has failed to comply with Issa’s Oct. 12, 2011, subpoena. With respect to 13 of the subpoena’s 22 categories, Holder has provided no documents. He is far from compliant with the subpoena’s other sections as well.
Cole conceded the complete lack of document production in six of those categories, but claimed the DOJ has provided Issa with at least some documents on “16 of the 22 subpoena items.” (RELATED: Obama signs Brian Terry Memorial Act)
Issa and his allies have complained that Holder has withheld tens of thousands of pages of documents, giving them instead to DOJ’s own Inspector General for an in-house investigation. But Cole called the comparison “inapposite,” claiming the Office of Inspector General is “independent” while also being a “component of the Department” of Justice.
Cole also argued that Fast and Furious is not an “extraordinary” enough scandal for the Obama administration to be forced to provide records on open criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Cole did not answer a question Issa asked Holder on May 10 about whether President Barack Obama is asserting executive privilege to continue avoiding compliance with the congressional subpoena.