House files civil lawsuit against Holder

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

This story has been updated. 

The House Oversight Committee filed a civil lawsuit on Monday against Attorney General Eric Holder to force him to turn over documents connected to the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme.

The House voted in June to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the documents. House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement on Monday that the Justice Department has been "stonewalling Congress" by ignoring the House's contempt order and therefore has left the House with "no choice but to take legal action so we can get to the bottom of the Fast and Furious operation."

"The White House has been complicit in this effort to hide the truth by making executive privilege claims that have no merit, which is why today's action is necessary," Boehner said in the statement.

In June, the White House exerted executive privilege over the documents and emails. The lawsuit essentially seeks a declaratory judgment from the court that Holder's reasoning for not turning over the documents -- executive privilege -- is not legally justified.

But this action could take a long time to be sorted out through any appeals process, certainly well beyond this fall's election.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., announced via Twitter on Sunday that he planned to file the suit against Holder.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement saying the "bipartisan lawsuit wastes taxpayer dollars and resources, and is a distraction from the urgent business before Congress: acting to create jobs and grow our economy.''

This latest move is essentially what happened in 2008 when the House held George W. Bush officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten in contempt in connection with subpoenas involving the 2006 firing of U.S. attorneys. 

Josh Chafetz, a Cornell law professor, who has written about that standoff, says the legal battle against Miers and Bolten took years. The House did not get any information until after the expiration of the Congress in which the subpoenas had been issued. The Bush administration was out of office, and the U.S. attorneys controversy had faded from public attention.

Billy House contributed.

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