WASHINGTON, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. House oversight panel Monday sued Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking the release of documents related to a botched gun-running operation.
Among other things, the suit seeks to obtain documents covered by the subpoena "that will show why the Justice Department took 10 months to retract a Feb. 4, 2011, letter which contained false denials of the reckless investigative tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious," the committee said in a release.
"After months of stonewalling by the attorney general and his staff and minutes before the Oversight Committee convened a business meeting to consider a resolution holding the attorney general in contempt, President Obama invoked an 11th-hour assertion of executive privilege over the documents."
The legal action asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to invalidate Obama's assertion of executive privilege and compel Holder to produce subpoenaed documents.
"President Obama exceeded his authority by asserting executive privilege over subpoenaed documents related to the Justice Department's coverup of Operation Fast and Furious," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman. "Waiting nearly eight months after the subpoena had been issued to assert a meritless claim of privilege, the president's decision was a calculated political maneuver designed to stop the release of documents until after November's elections."
Responding to the lawsuit, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the action "wastes taxpayer dollars and resources and is a distraction from the urgent business before Congress."
The litigation is the latest escalation in a dispute between House Republicans and the Justice Department over documents related to the failed gun-smuggling effort known as Operation Fast and Furious.
The operation, in which federal agents knowingly let weapons slip across the Mexican border, cost Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Acting Director Kenneth Melson his job.
It also spiraled into an increasingly contentious standoff between the Obama administration and House Republicans.
On June 28, the House voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress and to authorize the oversight panel to file a lawsuit to force disclosure of documents it demanded but didn't receive.
The Justice Department turned over thousands of pages relating to the operation under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, including the Feb. 4 letter the department sent to Congress, stating incorrectly the operation did not use a controversial tactic, officially against Justice Department policy, called gun-walking. The department later retracted that statement.
The Oversight Committee says the Justice Department may have sought to mislead the committee about the operation.
Holder has since refused to provide other materials, such as documents explaining how officials responded to congressional and media inquiries about whether the operation let as many as 2,000 guns fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Fast and Furious, conducted from late 2009 to early 2011 by Phoenix-based ATF agents, was part of a strategy begun during the George W. Bush administration to combat Mexican drug and organized crime cartels.
The operation let suspected smugglers buy more than 2,000 firearms -- including AK-47 variants, .50-caliber sniper rifles, .38-caliber revolvers and semiautomatic pistols -- without intercepting the weapons.
The goal was to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key cartel figures, which would presumably lead to the figures' arrests and the cartels' dismantling. But the agents lost track of several hundred weapons.
Some guns later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including that of a Dec. 14, 2010, shootout in which U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed. Fast and Furious became public after Terry's death, when enraged agents went to lawmakers about the operation.
"The family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, whistle-blowers who faced retaliation for exposing the Justice Department's reckless tactics and the public have a right to know the full extent of what occurred," Issa said.