The U.S. Department of Justice released thousands of subpoenaed documents Friday about the controversial “Operation Fast and Furious” gun trafficking investigation, four years after the government asserted executive privilege to try to block Congress from obtaining the documents.
“Fast and Furious” was a failed effort between 2009 and 2011 to stop gun smuggling across the United States' southwestern border by the department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and federal prosecutors in Arizona.
As part of the operation, the department knowingly allowed people to illegally buy guns in the United States and take them into Mexico, court documents showed. A federal judge ordered the department to release the documents to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
WATCH: "Fast and Furious," the program that filled Mexico with weapons
The operation was said to be an easier way to infiltrate criminal gangs, by tracking the weapons and arrest those who bought them.
However, it was considered a huge failure as estimates suggest that as many as 1,400 weapons were lost by the ATF in Mexico, with many falling into the hands of drug cartels.
The records released on Friday were about the department's internal deliberations on congressional and media inquiries about the investigation, said the Justice Department.
The documents are critical to the committee's efforts to “understand and shine light on what was happening inside DOJ during the time of this irresponsible operation,” committee chairman and Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, said in a statement.
As of Friday afternoon, the committee staff had just begun looking through the documents and could not release additional details about them, a spokesperson told Reuters.
The committee sued the department for the documents in August 2012, but the judge's order in January required the department to release a smaller set of documents than those originally requested by the committee.
The government's Executive Branch had until midnight Friday to file an appeal. Instead, the Obama administration turned over a set of documents to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“Notwithstanding the factual and legal errors in the district court's January 19 order, the Department has decided not to appeal from the court’s judgment,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter Friday, adding that “moving past this litigation and building upon our cooperative working relationship with the Committee and other Congressional committees” is more important.
The committee appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday for the remaining documents it had requested.