President Obama is claiming executive privilege in refusing to give certain documents to Congress concerning the "Fast and Furious" operation.
The Justice Department requested that Obama assert the privilege in refusing to turn certain documents over to Congress concerning the botched gun-smuggling operation.
The news comes as House Republicans consider holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over the Fast and Furious dispute.
By Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images
In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a Justice Department official said executive privilege applies to documents that explain how the department learned of problems with the investigation.
"I write now to inform you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the relevant post-February 4, 2011, documents," writes Deputy Attorney General James Cole. "We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the Committee's concerns and to accommodate the Committee's legitimate oversight interests regarding Operation Fast and Furious."
Republicans said they are stunned by the president's move, while Democrats on the oversight committee accused GOP lawmakers of carrying out a political witch hunt.
"The president's assertion of executive privilege creates more questions," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. "That brings into question whether Eric Holder knew about it and how much the president knew about it."
The investigation into the operation was spurred after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, inquired into whistle-blower allegations that the government had allowed the transfer of illegally purchased weapons that were found at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Grassley slammed the White House on Wednesday for the move.
"How can the president assert executive privilege if there was no White House involvement?" Grassley said in a statement. "How can the president exert executive privilege over documents he's supposedly never seen? Is something very big being hidden to go to this extreme?"