WASHINGTON — The Justice Department and a congressional committee disagree on the pace of their talks to settle a lawsuit over congressional efforts to get records related to Operation Fast and Furious, a bungled gun-tracking operation.
In a joint filing Friday night, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told the judge in the case that a settlement offer it received from the Justice Department this week was a "grave disappointment" and that a settlement is not possible.
"The parties are very, very far apart," lawyers for the GOP-led committee wrote. "Indeed, they are not even conceptually on the same page. After nearly four months of negotiating in good faith, the committee reluctantly has concluded – principally as a result of the department's settlement document – that the attorney general is not serious about settlement." The committee added that it didn't think court-ordered mediation would help.
President Barack Obama has invoked executive privilege and Attorney General Eric Holder has been found in contempt of the House for refusing to turn over records that might explain what led the Justice Department to reverse course, after initially denying to Congress that federal agents had used a controversial tactic called gun-walking in the failed law enforcement operation.
The department has already turned over 7,600 pages of documents on the operation itself. The continuing dispute is over documents describing how the department responded to the congressional investigation of the operation.
In the same filing Friday, the Justice Department said it disagreed with the committee's characterization of the settlement negotiations and that a settlement is still possible.
Without getting into specifics, the department said it "provided a meaningful offer to the committee to produce documents directly responsive to the committee's identified outstanding interests." The department added that mediation by a judge would be helpful.
"Mediation would provide the parties a forum within which to frankly and confidentially present their respective positions before a neutral third party, who could then offer assistance on how to bridge the differences remaining between the parties," the department wrote.
In a January court filing, the Justice Department had reported progress in settlement talks, prompting U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to postpone a hearing that had been scheduled for the following week. That hearing is scheduled to take place next month.
Since that filing, Holder told ABC News that the contempt voted didn't bother him.
"But I have to tell you that for me to really be affected by what happened, I'd have to have respect for the people who voted in that way," Holder said in the interview last month. "And I didn't, so it didn't have that huge an impact on me."
In a footnote in Friday's filing, the committee wrote that "recent public statements by the attorney general also suggest that he is not interested in compromise," citing the ABC News interview.
Fast and Furious was a flawed gun-tracking investigation focused on Phoenix-area gun shops by the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Agents lost track of about 1,400 guns, and two guns in Operation Fast and Furious were found on the U.S. side of the border at the scene of a shooting in which U.S. border agent Brian Terry was killed.
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