(CBS News) The House Oversight Committee filed a civil lawsuit against Attorney General Eric Holder Monday, demanding that Holder release documents from the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation.
The Republican-led House of Representative voted to hold Holder in contempt on June 28 for failing to turn over thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents. The Justice Department has said it is withholding documents under White House executive privilege.
Seventeen Democrats voted with 238 Republicans in the 255-67 vote for contempt. Democratic leaders called the contempt vote a "political witch hunt."
In a past subpoena dispute between Congress and the executive branch, a federal judge ordered the executive branch to turn over the disputed documents. However, before the executive branch could pursue an appeal, the two sides reached a compromise and certain documents were turned over.
The contempt vote had two possible tracks for enforcement: criminal and civil. But shortly after the House vote, the Department of Justice announced it would not pursue a criminal case against its own Attorney General and did not believe any crime had been committed. The civil lawsuit filed Monday asks a federal judge to order the Justice Department to turn over the documents.
During Operation Fast and Furious, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms allowed thousands of weapons to fall into the hands of traffickers for Mexican drug cartels. Documents sought by Congress include internal emails and memoranda regarding a now-discredited letter to Congress from the Justice Department that denied any "gunwalking" had occurred. Nearly a year later, the Justice Department told Congress the letter was incorrect and that gunwalking had, indeed, gone on but that Holder knew nothing of it at the time.