WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats sparred Thursday over whether a new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general about the botched gun-tracking case known as Operation Fast and Furious meant that it was time for lawmakers to start wrapping up their own investigation.
Members of both parties on the House oversight committee, which has been deeply divided during a long inquiry into the matter, praised the 471-page report by the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, as comprehensive and fair — even as each side sought vindication in different aspects of his findings.
A major outstanding issue is a lawsuit by the House over a subpoena for internal Justice Department emails from 2011, after the operation had ended. President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over the documents.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., engineered a House vote this summer to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt for refusing to turn over the materials. But the new report quoted from the emails at length, and the Justice Department on Wednesday gave Congress more than 300 pages that it cited.
“Although this report will not bring a complete end to the need for us to work with Justice to bring genuine reform to their process, it goes a long way toward that," Issa said, adding, “Some materials contained in this report do help us because they are, in fact, many of the items that we wish we had received."
The ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said the disclosures raised the possibility of resolving “any lingering issues without further conflict."
“With this action by the department, I urge the committee to reconsider its position and settle the remnants of this dispute without resorting to unnecessary and costly litigation that nobody in this country wants," he said.
But there were also signs of a continuing appetite by some Republicans to keep the investigation going.
Fast and Furious was an investigation from late 2009 to early 2011 into an Arizona-based gun-trafficking ring linked to a Mexican drug gang. During its course, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents used the tactic of gun-walking — not interdicting illegal weapons in hope of identifying more criminals and building a bigger case. In December 2010, two guns linked to the case were found after a shootout where a Border Patrol agent was killed.