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Patience has apparently run out with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his refusal to turn over what congressional investigators consider critical evidence in the ongoing Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation. On June 20th, the House Oversight Committee will vote on whether or not to hold Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress. The vote would mark the fourth time in the last 30 years that Congress has initiated contempt proceedings against a member of the executive branch of government. “The Obama administration has not asserted Executive Privilege or any other valid privilege over these materials, and it is unacceptable that the Department of Justice refuses to produce them,” said investigation Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA).
The dispute between the Committee and the Attorney General centers around documents subpoenaed on October 12, 2011. The Justice Department (DOJ) maintains that thousand of documents already turned over, as well as testimony given by Mr. Holder on eight separate occasions, constitutes cooperation. Mr. Issa counters that additional documents, including materials created after Feb. 4, 2011, when the Justice Department wrote a letter to Congress saying no gunwalking had occurred, have not been sent to his Committee. Adding weight to Issa’s assertion is the fact that the DOJ retracted that denial. Issa notes that the missing documents “pertain to Operation Fast and Furious, the claims of whistleblowers, and why it took the Department nearly a year to retract false denials of reckless tactics.” He further noted that the DOJ can put an end to the contempt process by complying with the subpoena.
Last Monday, Issa revealed information about six wiretap applications signed by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Holder’s second in command, that ostensibly prove high-ranking DOJ officials knew about operation Fast and Furious. The DOJ responded with a letter disagreeing with Issa’s characterization of those wiretaps, but said it was “legally prohibited from commenting on the content of sealed court documents,” due to the fact that those documents deal with open criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Issa was undeterred. “Specifically, the Justice Department has refused to turn over critical documents on the grounds that they show internal Department deliberations and were created after February 4, 2011–the date Justice issued a false denial to Congress. Contempt will focus on the failure to provide these post February 4th documents,” Issa said.
Last Thursday, Eric Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee. It is likely Holder’s performance, exhibiting both his evasiveness and his alleged memory lapses regarding the botched gunrunning program, pushed Issa over the edge. Holder has long maintained that he wasn’t aware that guns were walked into Mexico during Fast and Furious until reports became public in early 2011. Holder reiterated that during his testimony, claiming he knew nothing of the operation until nearly three months after Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed by one of the 2,000 firearms lost to alleged Mexican drug cartel members in an attempt to trace gun trafficking. And he continued to insist that Fast and Furious was handled entirely by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) employees, with little oversight at the Justice Department.
One of the most compelling parts of Holder’s testimony included an exchange with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) regarding an email written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein to James Trusty, chief of DOJ’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, in which the words “Fast and Furious” were used. “The email says Fast and Furious, you say it doesn’t. I’ve got it in black and white,” Chaffetz said. Holder insisted the phrase referred to Bush administration operations and later asserted, “I have superior knowledge.”
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