The US Justice Department said it would not prosecute Attorney General Eric Holder over his refusal to hand over documents on a botched gun-running operation to Congress, even after the House of Representatives held him in contempt.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the Justice Department had "determined that the attorney general's response to the subpoena issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does not constitute a crime."
"Therefore the department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the attorney general," Cole wrote.
Justifying his refusal, Cole cited a "longstanding position" of the Justice Department not to prosecute officials for withholding documents "pursuant to a presidential assertion of executive privilege."
Cole reminded Boehner that former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had asserted the same privilege in their dealings with Congress.
The refusal came after US lawmakers on Thursday took the historic and controversial step of holding Holder in contempt over the gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious.
Launched in Arizona by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Fast and Furious was a sting operation designed to track weapons purchased by straw buyers and smuggled to Mexican drug cartels.
But many of the guns went missing, and two were later found at the murder scene of a US border patrol agent.