House, DOJ Won’t Use ‘Fast and Furious’ Ruling in Barr Fight

(Bloomberg) -- On the same day the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee voted to hold U.S. Attorney General William Barr in contempt for failing to turn over an unredacted copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, another House panel and the Justice Department agreed to end litigation arising from the contempt citation against Barr’s Obama-era predecessor, Eric Holder.

Filed with a federal appeals court in Washington on Wednesday, the pact between the now Republican-led Justice Department and the House Oversight and Reform Committee cordons off trial court rulings in the earlier dispute that each side could have wielded against the other as Barr’s fight with the lawmakers intensifies.

House, DOJ Won’t Use ‘Fast and Furious’ Ruling in Barr Fight

“The district court’s holdings should not in any way control the resolution of the same or similar issues should they arise in other litigation between the committee and the executive branch,” the parties said in the filing, reciting their mutual grievances with rulings issued by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a lawsuit filed in 2012.

Back then, the Republican-led House had voted to find Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress after he refused to turn over records related to the ill-fated federal gun-running investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious. That program allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. in order to trace the firearms to Mexican drug cartels. The U.S. lost track of about 2,000 weapons, two of which were recovered at the site where a U.S. border patrol agent was murdered in 2010.

Two years later, the house held the AG in contempt by a 255-67 vote. The Oversight Committee then sued Holder to compel his compliance with its subpoena.

Jackson denied the Obama administration’s bid to end the matter and, 10 months later, ordered Holder to produce nonprivileged documents. Two years after that, she again rejected assertions of privilege.

Those rulings ultimately prompted the appellate case that is now ending after more than two years of negotiations, just as a new court battle over contempt is in the offing -- this time with a reversal of political polarity between the White House and the House of Representatives.

The attorney who signed Wednesday’s filing for the lawmakers, Todd Tatelman, is also part of the legal team defending against a lawsuit by President Donald Trump seeking to bar the committee from obtaining records from his accounting firm.

The report at the center of the struggle between Barr and the House is on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and any role the Trump campaign played in that meddling, or in obstructing Mueller’s investigation. The special counsel didn’t find evidence adding up to a conspiracy between the campaign and Russia. He cited numerous instances of obstructive behavior but reached no conclusion on whether they constituted a crime.

The trial court case is Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Barr, 12-cv-1332, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The appellate case is Committee on Oversight and Reform v. Barr, 16-5078, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.