Updated at 1:42 p.m.
After several months of trading settlement offers, House Republicans filed notice Friday with a District of Columbia federal judge that they believe Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. "is not serious" about reaching an agreement to release information on a controversial gun trafficking operation and that future talks "would be a waste of everyone's time."
Holder, in the same status report filed with U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, wasn't as pessimistic. He indicated that the U.S. Department of Justice was prepared to continue negotiating and that it would accept Jackson's previous suggestion of mediation with U.S. District Senior Judge Barbara Rothstein. Rothstein is a visiting judge from the Western District of Washington.
This afternoon, however, Jackson ordered the parties to mediation with Rothstein. She didn’t offer any explanation, except to say that she had considered what both sides said in the status report. If the parties don’t reach a settlement by April 22, Jackson is scheduled to hear arguments on the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss on April 24.
The Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sued Holder last August seeking to enforce a subpoena for information related to Operation Fast and Furious. The now-defunct gun sting operation has been a major source of contention between Holder and Republicans; the House found Holder in contempt of Congress shortly before the committee filed its lawsuit.
As part of the operation, federal agents allowed firearms to move into Mexico and then tracked their movement with the goal of building trafficking cases. However, weapons connected with the program were linked to at least one death, the murder of U.S. border agent Brian Terry. Republicans have repeatedly pushed the Justice Department to release more information on the program.
In January, both sides declined Jackson's offer of mediation. According to the status report filed Friday, House Republicans delivered a settlement offer in February and the Justice Department responded with an offer of its own on March 14. The department's offer was "a grave disappointment," the committee wrote. The details of the settlement offers were not made public.
The committee rejected the proposal of mediation, saying that although it had "the utmost respect" for Rothstein, "the events of the past four months have left the Committee with the firm conviction that the only result of mediation at this time will be further delay."
The Justice Department countered that it didn't think settlement talks should end until they gave mediation a try. "Mediation would provide the parties a forum within which to frankly and confidentially present their respective positions before a neutral third party, who could then offer assistance on how to bridge the differences remaining between the parties," the department said.
If the parties can't reach an agreement, Jackson will be tasked with first deciding whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the dispute before getting to the merits of the case.