The U.S. Justice Department said on Friday it would not prosecute Attorney General Eric Holder for refusing to turn over to Congress documents about a gun-running scandal to Mexico.
Holder, who heads the Justice Department, was cited on Thursday for contempt of Congress by the Republican-led House of Representatives. The mostly partisan vote of 255-67 marked the first time a sitting attorney general and presidential cabinet member was cited for contempt by the full House. More than 100 Democrats walked out in protest and refused to vote.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Holder's deputy said that the attorney general properly withheld the documents under “executive privilege,” which allows President Barack Obama to keep private documents on internal government discussions.
“The department will not bring the Congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the attorney general,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
The fight over the Obama administration documents revolves around “Operation Fast and Furious,” a federal law enforcement program intended to track weapons sold in Arizona that were suspected of being transported to Mexico for use by violent drug cartels.
The Justice Department initially denied that a program was being run that allowed some guns to “walk” into Mexico – a contention it later retracted, raising Republican suspicions. Republicans accuse the Obama administration of allowing guns to enter Mexico that were used in at least one case to kill a U.S. official.
Cole said in the letter that presidents of both parties have traditionally used “executive privilege” to shield internal communications from Congress, citing cases in both the administrations of former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Some Republicans have called on Holder to resign over the scandal, which he has refused to do.