In recent testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a combative Attorney General Eric Holder strongly denied the Justice Department is engaged in a cover-up over its involvement in “Operation Fast and Furious,” the failed gun-buying probe which led to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and over 300 hundred Mexican citizens.
Instead, Holder said the 14-month congressional probe into the failings of Fast and Furious had devolved into nothing but a “political” effort intended to embarrass the Obama administration.
Holder’s accusations were echoed by Democrats on the House committee who released an 89-page report prior to Holder’s testimony, which read in part: “The Committee has obtained no evidence that Operation Fast and Furious was a politically-motivated operation conceived and directed by high-level Obama Administration political appointees at the Department of Justice.”
Of course, to be fair, it’s difficult to find conclusive evidence of wrongdoing when the Attorney General has withheld from congressional investigators over 80,000 DOJ documents related to Fast and Furious, as well as preventing key Justice Department officials with knowledge of the failed operation from appearing before Congress.
Nevertheless, that track record didn’t prevent Holder from insisting before the committee that the DOJ has already “shared huge amounts of information” and would continue to do so.
Holder admitted, however, that he has not been as generous with information sharing when it comes to members of the Obama administration. One year after Terry’s death, Holder informed the committee that he still hasn’t discussed the growing scandal with Secretary of State Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano or President Obama.
According to Holder, “When people know that I’m going to be the subject of these kinds of hearings – six times and all that – nobody necessarily wants to get involved in these kinds of things, or get dragged into it.” Of course, given his handling of the deadly scandal, it comes as little surprise that his administration colleagues head for the tall grass when they see Holder approaching.
Launched in 2009 by the Phoenix branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), over 2,000 firearms were sold to low-level gun buyers suspected of supplying Mexican gangs and drug cartels.
However, in clear violation of its policies and procedures, ATF agents did not arrest these gun buyers, but rather allowed them to walk away from the purchases in hopes of tracking them to higher-up ringleaders and financiers in the Mexican cartels.
Unfortunately, the ATF lost track of more than 1,400 weapons during the operation while recovering 700 weapons from crime scenes in the United States and Arizona. Most disturbingly, one of those recovered weapons, an AK-47, had been used to kill Brian Terry near Nogales Arizona in December 2010.
Since Terry’s death, a 14-month investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice has failed to produce an answer as to who in the ATF or DOJ had approved the “gun-walking” tactics employed in Fast and Furious.
While Holder acknowledged before the House committee that no one in the DOJ has been punished “yet,” few outside the Obama administration remain hopeful that anyone will ever be held accountable given Holder’s steadfast obstruction since the start of the Fast and Furious investigation in January 2011.
Specifically, the DOJ initially tried to blame staffers at the United States Attorney’s office in Arizona and low-level agents at the ATF for the gun-walking tactics used in the operation, claiming that top officials in the Justice Department were not aware they were being employed.
That defense was first raised in a February 4, 2011 letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Republican Senator Charles Grassley, Chair of the Senate Judiciary and a partner in the House investigation.
In that letter, Weich categorically denied that the DOJ used the gun-walking strategy, although that claim was later refuted in November 2011 by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the DOJ’s Criminal Division. Breuer told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Weich’s statement in that letter was in fact untrue and that Weich knew it was false long before the letter was written.
While the Justice Department officially retracted the letter in December 2011, Holder has not only refused to comply with a congressional subpoena for information about who prepared the February 4 letter and who reviewed it before it went out, but he has refused to turn over any documents created after the February 4 letter.
In fact, Holder has refused to turn over 80,000 subpoenaed documents to Congress, despite a threat from Republican House Committee Chairman Darrell Issa to seek a contempt of Congress ruling against Holder if he doesn’t comply.
That threat has so far failed to sway Holder who has consistently cited executive privilege as the basis for his refusal to turn over the documents to Congress, a stance Republican Representative Dan Burton called “baloney.”
In addition to holding back documents from congressional investigators, Holder has also prevented key Justice Department officials from testifying. When the Arizona US Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division chief, Patrick Cunningham, was set to plead the Fifth to avoid admitting he committed a crime during Fast and Furious or the subsequent cover-up, Issa demanded Holder allow Cunningham’s subordinates, assistant United States attorneys Michael Morrissey and Emory Hurley, to testify before for the House committee.
In a letter sent to holder, Issa said both Morrissey and Hurley have “possession of key factual knowledge about Fast and Furious not readily available from any other source.” However, Holder has refused to make them available to speak with the committee, citing a policy of not making “line attorneys” available for congressional inquiry.
It should be noted that while Holder may be dragging his feet in determining any culpability from his DOJ staff in approving an illegal operation that killed a Border Patrol agent and scores of Mexican citizens, he did promise the House committee that he would not rest in holding people within the Justice Department accountable for divulging operational details of Fast and Furious.
Specifically, when Holder was confronted by Issa with the fact that wiretap applications involved in Fast and Furious showed that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and other high-ranking officials in the DOJ and ATF had knowledge of the gun walking techniques employed, Holder responded that he’s prepared to hold people in his organization “accountable right now for whistle blowing on the wiretap applications.”
Yet despite Holder’s zeal to pursue whistleblowers within the DOJ, Republican Representative Trey Gowdy could only conclude that “absolutely nothing has happened to a single solitary person as a result of this other than one dead Border Patrol agent and lots of Mexican citizens. Beyond that, I can’t find a single consequence that has befallen anybody who knew about this.”
If Eric Holder has anything to do about that, given his actions to date, none ever will.
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