A White House Concession on Fast and Furious

The Obama administration will withdraw an executive-privilege claim and turn over documents related to the botched ATF gunwalking operation.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Remember Fast and Furious? No, not the series of vehicle-themed Vin Diesel and Rock vehicles. The bizarre “gunwalking” scandal, in which the ATF let straw buyers purchase guns to traffic to Mexico, but intercept the firearms before they reached Mexico, snagging criminals.

It's been mostly out of the news for the last four years, but on Friday, the White House announced it would drop claims of executive privilege and turn over a cache of documents to Congress related to Fast and Furious, as Politico’s Josh Gerstein first reported. The decision follows a court defeat in January for the Obama administration. Gerstein explains:

In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not turn down Obama's privilege assertion on the merits. Instead, she said authorized public disclosures about the operation in a Justice Department inspector general report essentially mooted the administration's drive to keep the records secret.

That’s the latest round in an ongoing battle between the White House and congressional Republicans over the operation. Almost inevitably, Fast and Furious was a fiasco. It didn’t snag any big fish, and the ATF lost track of 2,000 guns, including two that were found after the 2010 murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The dispute is not over whether Fast and Furious failed, but over who is to blame. The Obama administration and the Department of Justice pinned the blame on the local ATF office in Phoenix. Republicans suggested that higher-ups—including the Attorney General Eric Holder or even President Obama—might have known.

The two sides engaged in an increasingly tense standoff in the summer of 2012, right in the heat of the presidential campaign and Obama’s election bid. The House Oversight and Government Committee demanded documents from the administration. The White House refused, saying that it had already turned over enough material and made Holder available for hearings. Obama granted Holder the right to invoke executive privilege, infuriating the committee’s Republicans. In an unprecedented move, the House held Holder in contempt, the first time a sitting attorney general had been chastised in that way.

Now, nearly four years later, the story is back in the news. The scandal has lost its political intrigue—Obama is in the home stretch of his presidency, and Holder left the administration last year. But perhaps the documents will finally allow a clear picture of whether there was a vast conspiracy to cover up Fast and Furious or whether, as the White House insists, this was only ever the story of a few rogue agents.