A brief history of 'Fast and Furious'
03:01 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Justice Department turned over nearly 65,000 pages of documents on Fast and Furious

That's the botched ATF operation that was to track illegal gun sales to Mexican cartels

Republicans have been seeking these documents since 2011

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, says he's not satisfied with what's been turned over

Washington CNN  — 

Under court order, the Justice Department turned over nearly 65,000 pages of documents Monday night pertaining to the botched Fast and Furious gun operation.

For years, these documents have been at the center of a dispute between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans, who demanded the documents back in 2011 as part of the investigation into the case.

The documents were previously withheld under the administration’s claim of executive privilege.

They portray the behind-the-scenes effort at the Justice Department to respond to the beginnings of the scandal over a flawed operation run by agents from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and prosecutors in the Phoenix U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Suspected gun traffickers were allowed to buy thousands of weapons, many of which turned up at violent drug cartel crime scenes in the United States and Mexico. The operation was exposed when a U.S. border agent was killed in a shootout near the Arizona-Mexico border and two firearms tied to Fast and Furious suspects were recovered at the scene.

Want to know more about Fast and Furious? Get the fast facts

At first, the Justice Department incorrectly said that the ATF always tried to stop weapons from being trafficked.

After months of revelations from whistleblowers, the Justice Department acknowledged the scope of Fast and Furious, and the scandal badly damaged Attorney General Eric Holder’s standing. He became the first sitting Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, said the documents turned over don’t satisfy a lawsuit he spearheaded seeking materials.

Issa said in a statement: “When Eric Holder wants to know why he was the first Attorney General held in criminal contempt of Congress, he can read the judge’s order that compelled the production of 64,280 pages that he and President Obama illegitimately and illegally withheld from Congress.

“Since these pages still do not represent the entire universe of the documents the House of Representatives is seeking related to the Justice Department’s cover-up of the botched gun-walking scandal that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent, our court case will continue.

“I am deeply concerned that some redactions to these documents may still be inappropriate and contrary to the judge’s order in the case. This production is nonetheless a victory for the legislative branch, a victory for transparency, and a victory for efforts to check executive branch power.

“As the production is extensive and may contain sensitive information, our investigative staff will be carefully examining the documents.”

The documents weren’t publicly released. But CNN reviewed a handful of the documents, which portray Holder frustrated as he tries to manage a controversy spiraling out of his control.

In one April 2011 email exchange, he cautions aides against moving too forcefully to help block an Issa subpoena of a gun dealer who was helping law enforcement in an investigation.

Holder lashed out: “Issa and his idiot cronies never gave a damn about this when all that was happening was that thousands of Mexicans were being killed with guns from our country. All they want to do – in reality – is cripple ATF and suck up to the gun lobby. Politics at its worst.”

The remark was a harbinger of a worsening relationship between Holder and Issa, which became public in bitter confrontations during congressional hearings.

Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said, “We have long been willing to provide many of these materials voluntarily in order to resolve this matter outside of court, and believe that producing them now should bring us a big step closer to concluding this litigation once and for all.”

The official said the documents provided Monday don’t contradict what the Justice Department has said about the Fast and Furious operation and support an inspector general’s finding that Holder didn’t know about Fast and Furious before the controversy erupted.