(Newsroom America) -- The White House on Wednesday extended executive privilege to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding documents related to the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-walking operation, a move that increases the administration's political stake in an ongoing congressional investigation that may lead to a vote of contempt against the Justice Department's top official.
Holder was scheduled to meet with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to turn over scores of documents sought for months by the panel, which has been investigating the operation, which has been tied to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, and the attorney general's role in it.
Prior to his agreement to meet with Issa, the California lawmaker had said his panel would hold a vote on whether to hold Holder in contempt for his refusal to hand over the documents. Executive privilege will enable the Justice Department to withhold documents from Congress, even if a subpoena for them has been issued, as Issa has done.
The decision to grant Holder executive privilege marks a dramatic shift from developments earlier this week, in which Holder and Issa appeared close to resolving a dispute over the documents and Issa's threat to hold Holder in contempt. A meeting late Tuesday to reach an agreement, however, failed to produce results.
"If we receive no documents, we'll go forward. If we receive documents we will evaluate them," Issa told reporters following the meeting.
Issa's committee is looking for documents dating from February to December 2011 on how the Justice Department handled the Fast and Furious case, CBS News reported.
Holder has said he made Issa an "extraordinary" offer to provide access to, and briefings of, some of the documents, an offer he says Issa has rejected.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who attended the Tuesday meeting, said Issa was right to proceed with a contempt vote.
In a letter to Issa Monday, Holder said the Justice Department "has offered a serious, good faith proposal to bring this matter to an amicable resolution in the form of a briefing based on documents that the committee could retain."
Issa and his committee have regularly demanded scores of documents from the Justice Department pertaining to the botched operation, in which the BATF allowed straw purchasers to buy guns from the U.S. and supply them to Mexican drug cartels south of the border. The notion was to follow the guns to the cartels but the U.S. agency lost track of most of the 2,000 or so guns purchased. At least two of them - AK-47 rifles - were found at the scene of a shoot-out where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.
The California congressman has also demanded to know who prepared a now-retracted letter from Feb. 4, 2011, in which Justice claimed the U.S. did not knowingly help smuggle guns across the border into Mexico, including those later found at Terry's murder scene.
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