(Holder to self: "I want my woobie.")
Eric Holder: “You have to understand the way in which the department operates. . . This has gotten a great deal of publicity.”
Darrell Issa: “There are dead Americans as a result of this of this failed and reckless program, so I would say it hasn’t gotten enough attention, has it Mr. Attorney General?” -- Testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee today.
CBS: "Attorney General Eric Holder grilled by Congress on ATF "Gunwalker" controversy."
Appearing today before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder got grilled about the "gunwalker" controversy in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is accused of allowing guns to get into the hands of criminals in Mexico. (Scroll down to watch video of Holder's testimony)
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) used asked Holder when first knew about the controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) operation known as "Fast and Furious." Though documents indicate Fast and Furious was started in 2009, Holder told Congress he only learned of it a "few weeks" ago.
That's after a CBS News investigation into allegations about Fast and Furious and other gun trafficking cases. Issa also asked who at the Department of Justice, if not Holder, approved Fast and Furious. Holder stated that he didn't know, but that investigations are underway to find that out.
The Department of Justice and ATF are under investigation by Congress and the Inspector General after numerous insiders say ATF pursued a strategy that allowed thousands of assault rifles and other weapons to cross the border into Mexico, where it was allegedly known they were being put into the hands of drug cartels. Holder reiterated such a strategy would be against Department policy. Investigators are looking into possible ties between those weapons and the deaths of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, Customs Agent Jaime Zapata, and an unknown number of Mexicans.
The federal law enforcement blog Tickle the Wire characterized it as "an exchange that was intense and sometimes contentious." The Wall Street Journal even noticed.
In an email reaction, an experienced ATF street agent sneered: "Holder 'takes exception" to being blamed for Agent Terry’s death? I bet Agent Terry’s family takes exception that Holder is a lying, cover-up, motherf--ker."
Another said: "I think its hilarious the President knew about Gunwalker before Holder did."
He was reacting to a statement by Holder as characterized by the WSJ:
Mr. Holder declined to discuss who signed off on the program or how high the approval went, and said he became aware of Fast and Furious only in recent weeks.
"Only in recent weeks" indeed. Hell, the correspondence alone has been going back and forth for MONTHS. Obama had the Univision interview on 22 March, for crying out loud. Based on what we have been told by the agents and the documents that Grassley and Issa already have in their possession, Holder just committed perjury.
Issa and Grassley are getting fed up with Holder's evasions. Here's the press release from Grassley's office this morning:
For Immediate Release
May 3, 2011
Grassley, Issa Press Justice Department to Provide Congress with Accurate Representations of Operation Fast and Furious
WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley and Congressman Darrell Issa today pressed Attorney General Eric Holder to provide a complete and accurate accounting of the policy to allow guns to be purchased by known straw buyers and then transported across the border into Mexico.
In a letter received yesterday from the Office of Legislative Affairs, the department once again denied any knowledge of the policy. The denial comes despite the documents that have been provided to the department that are contrary to the official stance.
Grassley and Issa said in a response to Holder that they will continue to conduct constitutionally mandated oversight of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ policy to allow guns to be purchased by known straw buyers.
“We are extremely disappointed that you do not appear to be taking this issue seriously enough to ensure that the Department’s representations are accurate, forthcoming, and complete. We will continue to probe and gather the facts independently, as it has become clear that we cannot rely on the Department’s self-serving statements to obtain any realistic picture of what happened,” Grassley and Issa wrote.
Grassley began looking into allegations brought forward by Agent John Dodson, and more than a dozen other ATF agents after the Justice Department Inspector General failed to investigate their concerns. The agents indicated that their supervisors kept them from stopping gun traffickers with the normal techniques that had been successfully using for years. They instead were ordered to only watch and continue gathering information on traffickers instead of arresting them as soon as they could. In the meantime, the guns were allowed to fall into the hands of the bad guys even as agents told supervisors that it could not end well. Many of the guns have subsequently been found in firefights along the border, including a December 14, 2010 firefight where Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.
Grassley and Issa’s requests for information from the Justice Department have gone mostly unanswered about what transpired at the ATF and the Department of Justice during the time when Terry was killed and the policies instituted during Project Gunrunner that allowed guns to be sold to known straw purchasers and moved across the border without intervention.
As chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Issa has begun issuing subpoenas to uncover the facts about how this reckless policy was approved.
Here is a copy of today’s letter to Holder. Here is a copy of the May 2 letter to Grassley and the February 4 letter to Grassley.
May 3, 2011
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Holder:
As Senator Grassley discussed on the phone with you yesterday, we are very concerned that the Department chose to send a letter containing false statements in response to his initial inquiry into the ATF whistleblower allegations related to Operation Fast and Furious. To be more specific, the Department sent a letter on February 4, 2011 claiming that the whistleblower allegations were “false” and that “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.” When questioned in transcribed interviews last week in Phoenix, agents with first-hand knowledge of ATF operations contradicted that claim.
Specifically, in response to that exact quote, they said the Department’s letter was “false” and could not explain how such a representation could be made to Congress in light of what they witnessed on the ground in Phoenix in late 2009 and 2010, prior to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. In fact, according to these witnesses, there was a specific strategy implemented to not “make every effort” but rather to avoid interdicting weapons in hopes of making a larger case against higher-ups in the trafficking organization.
Therefore, we were surprised and disappointed to see the Department repeat once again, in slightly different language, its denial in a letter received shortly after your telephone conversation with Senator Grassley. Yesterday’s letter reads, in part, “It remains our understanding that ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious did not knowingly permit straw buyers to take guns into Mexico.”
The documents and information previously provided to you demonstrate that the ATF urged gun dealers to go forward with sales to known straw buyers despite the concerns expressed by at least one dealer that the guns would be transferred to the border and possibly used against Border Patrol agents. ATF and Justice officials assured that dealer that unspecified safeguards were in place to ensure that did not happen. Yet, guns from that case were found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder and at crime scenes in Mexico.
In its latest denial, the Department seems to focus more on whether ATF knew guns were being trafficked to Mexico than whether the ATF knew they were being purchased by straw buyers. While it might be typical in Washington for lawyers to narrowly parse statements and argue over fine distinctions to confuse the issue, those are not the kind of answers that we believe the Justice Department should give to Congress when asked straightforward questions about such a serious matter as this one.
You were asked to please explain whether you deny that the ATF allowed the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers, and if so, why given the evidence that was attached. The reply was not signed by you, did not explain whether you stand by the denial, did not explain why, and did not meaningfully address the serious issues raised by the attached emails between a gun dealer and the ATF.
We are extremely disappointed that you do not appear to be taking this issue seriously enough to ensure that the Department’s representations are accurate, forthcoming, and complete. We will continue to probe and gather the facts independently, as it has become clear that we cannot rely on the Department’s self-serving statements to obtain any realistic picture of what happened.
Darrell Issa, Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member
Committee on Oversight & Committee on the Judiciary
Government Reform United State Senate
U.S. House of Representatives
David Codrea notes Grassley's chance at Holder comes tomorrow when a Senate oversight hearing on DOJ takes place.
Pull up a seat and grab the popcorn. That one will be better than today's.