Lawyers from the Justice Department and key GOP Congressional leaders met Monday to discuss the gun operation controversy.
WASHINGTON - Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department and for congressional Republicans told a federal judge on Tuesday they were in talks to settle a suit stemming from Operation Fast and Furious, a botched probe into gun trafficking to Mexican drug cartels.
The lawyers said they were uncertain whether the talks would be successful, but that they met on Monday and will meet again.
Republicans in the House of Representatives sued Attorney General Eric Holder, head of the Justice Department, in August to enforce a subpoena for documents about the probe.
They voted in June to find Holder in contempt and accused the Obama administration of withholding documents related to how it responded to the Fast and Furious operation, named after a movie about car racing.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson encouraged settlement talks during a 30-minute hearing on the case in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Federal judges have rarely addressed the complicated questions raised in the case about relations between the White House and Congress, Jackson said. One side or the other might not want to live with a potential "all or nothing" decision that a settlement would avoid.
"There may be some benefit in trying to work it out, either among yourselves or with the help of a mediator," she said.
A lawyer for House Republicans, Kerry Kircher, said he expected the sides to meet again in the near future but added: "I cannot express any expectation about the outcome of that."
A settlement would be "the appropriate course here," said Justice Department lawyer Ian Gershengorn.
Congressional uproar over Fast and Furious led to at least three high-level resignations or retirements from the Justice Department or the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Fast and Furious started in 2009 near the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona as a response to gun trafficking that fed violence among drug cartels.
Federal agents who ran the operation focused on building cases against the leaders of a trafficking ring, and in the process did not pursue low-level buyers of about 2,000 potentially illegal firearms.
The operation was brought to light when a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in December 2010 in Arizona. Two guns connected with the case were found at the scene of the shootout where he died.