"I think there is a deal that can be struck," Holder added. "We could have struck this deal many months ago."
The department has already turned over 7,600 pages of documents on the operation itself. The continuing dispute is over documents describing how the department responded to the congressional investigation of the operation. Obama asserted executive privilege to shield the administration's internal decision-making about the congressional investigation.
In Fast and Furious, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives abandoned the agency's usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. The goal of the gun-walking approach was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers who long had eluded prosecution, and to dismantle their networks.
But agents lost track of many of the weapons, and hundreds of them purchased from Arizona gun shops wound up in Mexico, where many of them were recovered at crime scenes. Two guns in Operation Fast and Furious were found on the U.S. side of the border at the scene of a shooting in which U.S. border agent Brian Terry was killed. Five men have since been charged in Terry's death, and one pleaded guilty last month and faces life in prison. Three others remain fugitives.
Also Tuesday, Ian Heath Gershengorn, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's civil division, told the judge that the subpoena from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for the records will expire on Jan. 3, when the current Congress expires and a new one takes its place. He said that could make the case moot.
Jackson asked both sides to file a joint report in January on the status of the subpoena. Because the House will remain in GOP hands, it's likely that a new subpoena would be issued, barring a settlement in the case.