(Adds Burton comment in third paragraph.)
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Republicans demanded today that the Obama administration turn over documents on a federal gun operation that the U.S. attorney general said can’t be given to Congress because of the constitutional separation of powers.
At a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican lawmakers said the Justice Department denied congressional investigators access to witnesses and documents on the law enforcement gun operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
“It appears as though we’re being stonewalled and there’s something that’s being hidden,” said Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican.
The hearing continued a dispute between the Justice Department and Republicans that began last year after the operation became public. Today’s hearing marked the sixth time that Attorney General Eric Holder has appeared before lawmakers to answer questions on the topic. Holder said he has been responsive to lawmakers and has provided thousands of pages of documents.
The U.S. gun operation based in Phoenix, Arizona, targeted Mexican drug cartels between 2009 and January 2011 and allowed more than 2,000 guns to be carried away. Two of the weapons were found at the scene of the December 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona, according to a congressional report. Other guns were found in Mexico.
The Justice Department has provided “virtually unprecedented access” to documents related to the gun operation, Holder said at the hearing.
Asked about documents sought by lawmakers that hadn’t been turned over, Holder cited “longstanding executive branch policy” not to release internal deliberations regarding how to respond to congressional oversight requests.
There are “acute” separation-of-powers concerns and prior administrations have also recognized that releasing such documents may “chill” internal communications, Holder said. The separation of powers is the principle dividing responsibilities among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government and was designed to ensure that no branch wields too much power.
Holder, who repeated earlier statements that the tactics used in Fast and Furious were “flawed,” directed the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the matter last year.
The Justice Department has made available more than 6,400 pages of documents, including those related to the creation of a February 2011 letter to Congress about the operation that later was withdrawn by the department as inaccurate.
Holder said the department “does not intend to produce additional deliberative materials” responding to congressional oversight or media requests that came after lawmakers began their investigation.
The inspector general’s office has received more than 10 times as many documents as the oversight committee, Burton said.
“You’re hiding behind something here that will not stand up, so you ought to give us the documents,” Burton said.
The panel’s chairman, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said: “My question will be: When is the primary investigative committee of Congress, of the U.S. House, going to be allowed to have the same access that your own self- appointed -- essentially self-appointed -- inspector general has?”
--Editors: Justin Blum, Leslie Hoffecker
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