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House files suit against Holder over government records

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-run House on Monday asked a federal court to enforce a subpoena against Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding that he produce records on a bungled gun-tracking operation known as Operation Fast and Furious.

The lawsuit asked the court to reject a claim by President Barack Obama asserting executive privilege, a legal position designed to protect certain internal administration communications from disclosure.

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The failure of Holder and House Republicans to work out a deal on the documents led to votes in June that held the attorney general in civil and criminal contempt of Congress. The civil contempt resolution led to Monday’s lawsuit.

Holder refused requests by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to hand over — without preconditions — documents that could explain why the Obama administration initially denied in February 2011 that the gun-walking tactic was used.

‘‘Portentously, the (Justice) Department from the outset actively resisted cooperating fully with the committee’s investigation,’’ the lawsuit said.

‘‘Among other things, the department initially declined to produce documents; later produced only very limited numbers of documents in piecemeal fashion; refused to make available to the committee certain witnesses; and limited the committee’s questioning of other witnesses who were made available,’’ it said.

The Justice Department previously said that it would not bring criminal charges against its boss. Democrats have labeled the contempt citations a political stunt.

Numerous lawmakers said this was the first time a Cabinet official had been held in contempt.

The lawsuit asked that:

—The executive privilege claim by Obama be declared invalid.

—Holder’s objection to the House records subpoena be rejected.

—The attorney general produce all records related to the Justice Department’s incorrect assertion in early 2011 that gun-walking did not take place.

Given recent experience, the Republican-controlled committee’s lawsuit could result in a compromise or an appeal by the losing side.

In 2008, a federal judge rejected the George W. Bush administration’s position that senior presidential advisers could not be forced to testify to the House Judiciary Committee. The decision was regarded as vindication of Congress’s investigative powers.

But the ruling also said that Congress’s authority to compel testimony from executive branch officials was not unlimited. The Bush administration appealed, but after Barack Obama became president in 2009, the newly elected Congress and the administration reached a settlement. Some of the documents at issue in the case were provided to the House and former White House counsel Harriet Miers testified.

The battle over congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony arose when Congress looked into whether political motives and White House involvement had prompted the dismissal of U.S. attorneys.

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