Updated at 3:15 p.m.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform filed a civil complaint today against Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., just over a month after the House of Representatives voted to find Holder in contempt of Congress for not turning over documents about the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun-smuggling sting operation.
The June 28 vote gave Congress authority to hire counsel and go to court in an attempt to force the DOJ to turn over documents in question. The 41-page complaint (PDF), filed this morning in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, chastised Holder for his "contumacious refusal" to comply with a subpoena and sets the stage for a court battle over the scope of executive privilege.
"The Attorney General's response to the Holder Subpoena has been consistent with the Department's overall response to the Committee's investigation: slow and woefully incomplete," the committee alleged in the complaint, which was filed by House General Counsel Kerry Kircher.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) first announced in a tweet last night that the committee would be filing a complaint related to Fast and Furious, an operation in which federal agents allowed straw buyers to purchase firearms in the United States and transport them to Mexico.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is the latest move by Issa and the Republican-led committee to dig in to the details of the Fast and Furious operation, especially about how and when Holder and other department officials learned about the controversial tactics involved. Republicans are also seeking information about how the department's knowledge of the operation "evolved" after February 4, 2011, when the department gave information to Congress that it later rescinded.
The committee first subpoenaed DOJ for documents related to Fast and Furious more than 19 months ago. That subpoena, according to later releases from Issa, asked the department to produce documents in 22 categories related to Fast and Furious.
The department did release thousands of pages of documents, but Republicans have accused officials of withholding key documents.
Contempt proceedings began in June after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement with Holder and the department over additional document disclosures. On June 20, just before the committee voted, the White House asserted executive privileged over the documents in question.
On June 28, Congress voted along partisan lines to find Holder in contempt.
In the complaint, the committee challenged the use of executive privilege, arguing that "there has been no suggestion that the documents at issue implicate or otherwise involve any advice to the President," and also that the Justice Department's actions didn't "involve core constitutional functions of the President."
In a statement, Issa said that President Barack Obama had "exceeded his authority" in asserting executive privilege. "After promising an unprecedented level of transparency, the President is attempting to expand the reach of executive privilege to obstruct the truth about the reckless conduct that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol Agent and countless Mexican citizens," Issa said, referring to the death of border patrol agent Brian Terry, whose killing was linked to the Fast and Furious operation.
In an email, Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that: "We were always willing to work with the Committee, instead the House and the Committee have said they prefer to litigate."
In a statement, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee's ranking Democrat, said that it "seems clear that House Republican leaders do not want to resolve the contempt issue and prefer to generate unnecessary conflict with the Administration as the election nears."
Cummings added: "Unfortunately, the American public suffers as House Republicans disregard the real work that needs to be done."
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.