President Obama, invoking executive privilege for the first time, on Wednesday blocked the release of documents sought by congressional Republicans investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

The president blocked lawmakers' access to the Justice Department documents just hours before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was scheduled to vote on a contempt of Congress charge against Attorney General Eric Holder.

"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," Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole wrote to Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. "Although we are deeply disappointed that the committee appears intent on proceeding with a contempt vote, the department remains willing to work with the committee to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues."

The House committee is set to vote after last-minute negotiations between Holder and Issa failed to produce a compromise on the release of the documents.

White House aides note that this is Obama's first use of executive privilege. Critics, meanwhile, said the move contradicts Obama's campaign pledge to increase transparency in government.