Senator Diane Feinstein. The specter of a fifty caliber sniper rifle evidently haunts her nightmares.
"Very few hunters in the United States or sports people and law-abiding people really need to have semiautomatic weapons or long guns." -- Lanny Breuer, 1 November 2011, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism Holds Hearing on Combating International Organized Crime.
Testimony from today's hearing. What Grassley is trying to do here is get Breuer on the record under oath, knowing that he's committing perjury. That's why the back and forth is so "collegial." What is more revealing is the enthusiastic swapping of spit over more gun control between Feinstein and Breuer. (Here's Dave Workman's take.)
"See, my concern, Mr. Chairman, is there has been a lot said about Fast and Furious, and perhaps mistakes were made. But I think this hunt for blame doesn't really speak about the problem. And the problem is anybody can walk in and buy anything, .50 caliber weapons, sniper weapons, buy them in large amounts."
There is one thing that is always fascinating to me about Feinstein. She can't mention gun control without mentioning fifty caliber rifles. I mean she is a monomaniac on the subject. It is obvious that the thought of a projectile which can be fired from a mile away that can penetrate her limousine's armor in some nominal green zone "safe envelope" is the stuff of her nightmares.
And you know what? If she keeps on soliciting civil war with her firearm registration and confiscation schemes, she's right to fear them.
In the meantime, however, here is Senator Grassley, setting up Darth Breuer for his future perjury charge.
GRASSLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Breuer, yesterday, you made a public statement saying that ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office officials, quote, unquote, repeatedly assured officials in the criminal division and the leadership of the Department of Justice the allegations about walking guns in Fast and Furious were not true. Please be more specific. Who exactly at ATF said that the gun walking allegations were untrue? And who exactly at the U.S. Attorney's Office said the allegations were untrue?
BREUER: Senator Grassley, as I said yesterday, of course, it was my office that ultimately prosecuted the Wide Receiver case. And I want to be very clear to you, senator, that when I learned of this in April of 2010, and -- I learned about it and we decided to prosecute this case from 2006 and 2007. I regret that, at that point, that I -- knowing then -- knowing now what -- knowing now -- I wish that at that time that I had said clearly to the deputy attorney general and the attorney general that in this case Wide Receiver, we had determined that in 2006 and 2007, guns had walked. I did not do that. And I regret not doing that.
GRASSLEY: Thank you for that statement. Not who told you at ATF and the Attorney General's Office that these allegations were untrue?
BREUER: Well, Mr. Senator, at the time, as I recall, my -- we first spoke to the -- to the ATF back in April of 2010. My front office did. And based on what I understood, we had an understanding from the ATF that this practice of 2006 and 2007, that the ATF understood the seriousness of that.
GRASSLEY: What is that individual's name?
BREUER: Well, there's clearly, as far as I know, Senator Grassley, at the time, Mr. Hoover, who was the deputy, was one of the people who would have been involved in that discussion. Of course, I wasn't there for it. So I can only tell you my understanding.
GRASSLEY: That's all I want, is your understanding of it.
BREUER: That's my understanding, senator. Then, of course, senator, in early this year, when this matter came to life and the ATF agents made the claims that they did, I recall that both the leadership of ATF and the leadership of the United States Attorney's Offices in Arizona, those, of course, who were closest and were handling the matter, were adamant about the fact that this was not, in fact, a condoned practice. I'm sure you recall that as well.
GRASSLEY: The word leadership applies then to the people that were head of the U.S. Attorney's Office and the head of ATF? Even though you didn't give me their names, that's who you're talking about, right?
BREUER: That's exactly right, as I recall.
GRASSLEY: Let me go on then.
BREUER: Yes, senator.
GRASSLEY: On February 4th, 2011, the department sent me a letter also assuring me that allegations of gun walking were untrue. It reads, quote, "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally, and prevent their transportation to Mexico," end of quote. That statement is absolutely false. And you admitted as much last night, that you knew by April, 2010, that ATF walked guns in Operation Wide Receiver. That is that correct, yes?
BREUER: Yes, senator. What I...
GRASSLEY: That's all I need to know, if that's correct. Did you review that letter before it was sent to me?
BREUER: Senator, again, I just want to be clear that, as I told you a moment ago, I regret that in April of 2010 that I did not draw the connection between Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. Moreover, I regret that -- that even in earlier this year that I didn't draw that connection. In direct answer to your question, senator, I can say -- I cannot say for sure whether I saw a draft of the letter that as sent to you. What I can tell you, Senator, is at that time, I was in Mexico dealing with a very real issues that we are all so committed to. But I also regret, as I've said, that I didn't draw that connection earlier.
GRASSLEY: After learning of gun walking in Wide Receiver, did you ever inform the Attorney General Holder or deputy attorney general about it? And if so, when? And if not, why not?
BREUER: Senator, I can't be more clear. I've said to you, and I will continue to, I regret the fact that in April of 2010, I did not. At the time, I thought that we -- dealing with the leadership of ATF was sufficient and reasonable. And frankly, given the amount of work I do, at the time, I thought that that was the appropriate way of dealing with it. But I cannot be more clear that knowing now -- if I had known then what I know now, I, of course, would have told the deputy and the attorney general.
GRASSLEY: Did you ever tell anybody else in the Justice Department leadership the same thing? And if so, who and when?
BREUER: Senator, I thought we had dealt with it by talking to the ATF leadership.
GRASSLEY: OK. How many guns were walked in Wide Receiver?
BREUER: Senator, I can probably try to look at that. Of course, that was in 2006 and 2007. Just to be clear, if I may, senator, that was a case that had been abandoned and languished. It was my division that decided to take a case where guns had been permitted to go to Mexico years earlier, and at least make sure that the criminals who were responsible for purchasing those guns were held to account. As a result of that, senator, we prosecuted 11 different people. I think to answer your question, in total, probably about -- if my math is good, probably about 350 or so. But, senator, I will have to double check that number.
GRASSLEY: I think you are very close. So you don't have to check that number. According to my information, just five straw buyers -- I will refer to the chart here and then I'll quit and let you go on to another member. And I'll do some more on a second round. According to my information, just five of the straw buyers in Fast and Furious were allowed to buy nearly 1,000 weapons. When did you first know that guns were walked in Fast and Furious?
BREUER: Senator, I found out first when the public disclosure was made by the ATF agents early this year. When they started making those public statements, of course, at that point, as you know, both the leadership of ATF and the leadership of the U.S. Attorney's Offices adamantly said that those allegations were wrong. But as those allegations became clear, that is when I first learned that guns that could -- that ATF had both the ability to interdict and the legal authority to interdict, that they failed to do so. That is when I first learned that, senator.
GRASSLEY: Thank you, Mr. Breuer.
BREUER: Thank you, sir.
GRASSLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
WHITEHOUSE: I will next call on Senator Feinstein, who not only brings to this concern her distinguished service on this committee, but her service as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that. Mr. Breuer, in June of this year, I received a letter from the ATF. This was in response to a letter I had asked them from Acting Director Melson, stating that 29,284 firearms recovered in Mexico in '09 and 2010, and submitted to the ATF tracing center. With those weapons, 20,504, or 70 percent, were United States sourced. A country of origin for the remaining firearms apparently could not be determined by ATF, meaning that the number could be much higher. What info -- what actually is the number? Now this was back in June. Is that the most current number? Is it fair to some that 70 percent of the firearms showing up in Mexico are from the United States?
BREUER: Thank you, Senator, for the question, and for your leadership on this issue. You have, of course, identified the paramount issue that we have to face as we deal with transnational organized crime from the Mexican cartels. From my understanding, 94,000 weapons have been recovered in the last five years in Mexico. Those are just the ones recovered, not the ones that are in Mexico. Of the 94,000 weapons that have been recovered in Mexico, 64,000 of those are traced to the United States. We have to do something to prevent criminals from getting those guns, Senator. That is my understanding of the most accurate numbers.
FEINSTEIN: Well, you see, this is a deep concern for me. And I know others disagree, but we have very lax laws when it comes to guns. I think this, to some extent, influences the ATF in how they approach the problem, as to whether they have political support or not. But I think these numbers are shocking. And I think when you know the number of deaths these guns have caused, used by cartels against victims, it's in -- literally up in the tens of thousands. So the question comes, what can we do? And I'd really rather concentrate on the constructive rather than other things. And so the question comes, do you believe that if there were some form of registration when you purchase these firearms that that would make a difference?
BREUER: I do, Senator. Senator, we're talking today about transnational organized crime, and your leadership and the chairman's and other senators shows that information -- information is the tool we need to challenge and defeat organized crime. Today, Senator, we are not even permitted to have ATF receive reports about multiple sales of long guns, of any kind of semiautomatic weapon or the like. So the ATF is unable to get that. Very few hunters in the United States or sports people and law-abiding people really need to have semiautomatic weapons or long guns. So today if I go into a dealership today and I want to buy 50 or 60 semiautomatic weapons, there is nothing that requires that to be in any way notified to ATF. Without that kind of a notification, we lose track and can lose track of these kinds of potent weapons. And that's just one example of the kind of tool that I think would empower ATF and law enforcement to help fight this scourge.
FEINSTEIN: See, my concern, Mr. Chairman, is there has been a lot said about Fast and Furious, and perhaps mistakes were made. But I think this hunt for blame doesn't really speak about the problem. And the problem is anybody can walk in and buy anything, .50 caliber weapons, a sniper weapons, buy them in large amounts, and send them down to Mexico. So the question really comes, what do we do about this? I've been here 18 years. I've watched the BATF get beaten up at every turn of the road. And, candidly, it's just not right. I mean, we have more guns in this country than we have people. And somebody has got to come to the realization that when these guns go to the wrong places scores of deaths result, and that's exactly the case with the cartels. So you are saying today that -- if I understand this -- over five years in recovered weapons, there were 94,000; 64,000 of those came from the United States.
BREUER: That's right.
FEINSTEIN: So clearly over two-thirds of the weapons used in Mexico by cartels are coming from the United States.
BREUER: That's correct, Senator. And just to make a point of that, in Wide Receiver, which was a matter where the guns were permitted to go to Mexico during the prior administration in years 2006 and 2007, when my team discovered that, we decided we had to prosecute that case because even though years and years earlier the guns had gone to Mexico, we had to hold the people who bought those guns responsible. And so we prosecuted those people, as Senator Grassley pointed out. But it is clear that we need more tools to get those people who are buying the guns and illegally transporting them to Mexico. We cannot permit the guns to go knowingly and we cannot permit the guns to go unknowingly. We need to stop the flow.
FEINSTEIN: Last question. What would be the number one tool that would be of help to you?
BREUER: Well, I think that the number one tool would be if ATF were given the ability to know when guns are purchased. And, frankly, as -- I don't know if it's the number one, but one of the -- one of the issues we're asking for in connection with the legislation we're talking about today is the ability to forfeit the weapons and the inventories of gun dealers who knowingly sell their guns to criminals. If we could -- if we could forfeit the guns of the dealers who we can prove knowingly are selling to criminals -- we don't want to do anything to people who are selling to law-abiding citizens but we have to stop these dealers from selling to criminals.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. . .
WHITEHOUSE: Yes, first of all, Senator Feinstein, thank you very much for stepping in as chair for me. As I think the witnesses are aware, we are now in a voting sequence in the Senate, and so Senator Grassley and I have made the mad dash back and forth to vote in order to be here for a second round. I have to say he was quite something to keep up with. Senator Grassley?
GRASSLEY: Thank you. Mr. Breuer, I think this will be my last round of questioning. Were you aware at the time that Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious in March of 2010?
BREUER: Senator, I don't believe that I was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious. And senator, I do not believe that I was aware of that briefing.
GRASSLEY: OK. In December, 2009, Director Melson asked you to assign a prosecutor to the case from headquarters. And in March, 2010, a prosecutor from the Gang Unit was assigned to Fast and Furious. Why did the number two official in the Justice Department get a briefing around the same time headquarters assigned a prosecutor to Fast and Furious?
BREUER: Senator, I can't answer that. What I can say to you is from the very beginning of my tenure as the assistant attorney general, I became very committed to doing everything we could to fighting the drug cartels and to doing what we can to stop the -- what they are doing. It was in that vein that I offered to southwest borders whatever help we in the criminal division could bring. That is how the very issues you are raising came about. But I cannot tell you anything about the briefing because I simply did not participate in it.
GRASSLEY: OK. You -- you said that when you first learned about gun walking in Wide Receiver, you instructed one of your deputies to schedule a meeting with the ATF acting director to, quote, "bring these issues to their attention," end of quote. When you first learned about gun walking in Fast and Furious, did you do the same thing? If not, why not?
BREUER: I did not, senator. That is what I regret.
GRASSLEY: OK. Was the deputy who you assigned to meet with ATF, Jason Weinstein, also responsible for authorizing any of the applications to the court for wiretaps in Fast and Furious?
BREUER: Senator, the answer is he and other deputies in my office, including the longest serving deputy in the United States' history, who has served for almost 60 years, did. If I may, senator, for a moment, I would like to explain what that role, is if you would permit me. The Congress made clear in law that wiretaps on telephones are an extraordinarily intrusive technique. They're a technique that I support fully, and that I think are essential in fighting organized crime and transnational organized crime. And they're why, senator, in my 2.5 years, I have over tripled the number of reviewers who do it. But as Congress made clear, the role of the reviewers and the role of the deputy in reviewing Title Three applications is only one. It is to insure that there is legal sufficiency to make an application to go up on a wire, and legal sufficiency to petition a federal judge somewhere in the United States that we believe it is a credible request. But we cannot -- those now 22 lawyers that I have who review this in Washington -- and it used to only be seven -- can not and should not replace their judgment, nor can they, with the thousands of prosecutors and agents all over the country. Theirs is a legal analysis; is there a sufficient basis to make this request. We must and have to rely on the prosecutors and their supervisors and the agents and their supervisors all over the country to determine that the tactics that are used are appropriate.
GRASSLEY: Thank you for that explanation. You said in your statement last night that you, quote," did not draw a connection," unquote, between gun walking in Wide Receiver and gun walking in Fast and Furious. You also said that you regret your failure to, quote, "alert others within the department leadership," end of quote, of similarities. What finally made the light bulb go on for you in the -- that the two cases had similar problems?
BREUER: Senator, thank you for that question. I mean, I hope you know, senator, that I have tried and my division has tried as comprehensibly as we can to deal with the plight of Mexico. I am proud to say, senator, that it is my division that is prosecuting the thugs and criminals who killed the three U.S. consulate officials in Juarez. It's my division that is responsible for the investigation right now of the murderers of ICE Agent Zapata and the shooting of Avila. And it is my division, working with law enforcement, that has brought 104 Mexican criminals, cartel leaders and the like, including Benjamin Arellano Felix, to justice this year into the United States. So every day, whether it is an organized crime or white-collar crime or cyber crime, we are working. There is absolutely no question, senator, that as I was involved in this exercise, and as all of this has come to light, that I, in thinking about it, realized that I should have back in April of 2010 drawn that connection. I have expressed that regret first personally to the attorney general of the United States. And then I determined that I should do it publicly as well.
GRASSLEY: I have just three short questions, Mr. Chairman. When did you finally alert others within the department leadership about the similarities that I just described? And who did you alert?
BREUER: Senator, I can't anymore recall, because, of course, by the time that the connection is drawn with me...
GRASSLEY: That's OK. How did you -- how did you first hear about Fast and Furious?
BREUER: Well, I first heard about the tactics, about guns being permitted to go to Mexico when ATF had both the legal authority to interdict them and the ability to interdict them -- I first heard of those allegations when the ATF agents went public.
GRASSLEY: OK. And then when and how did you first learn about the connection between Fast and Furious and U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's murder.
BREUER: Senator, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's murder is an absolute horrible tragedy, as are the tragedies of the other people who -- law enforcement and others have been killed. The only way I learned about any connection there was when these became -- when it became public. But, of course, as you know, senator, with respect to many of these tragedies, my division has done everything we can to hold the people liable. When CBP Agent Rosas was killed, I worked personally tirelessly to bring his murderer to the United States. I attended the funeral. I spent time with his family. And that is why we are working tirelessly to hold the murderers of Agent Zapata accountable and the murderers of the consulate officials accountable.
GRASSLEY: Mr. Chairman, I have a request to view. I released a report that I would like to ask be made a part of the record. It refutes the numbers referenced early that 70 percent of the guns in Mexico came from the U.S. The answer isn't to clamp down on law abiding citizens or gun dealers. Would you include that in the records?
WHITEHOUSE: Without objection, the report will be included in the record.
GRASSLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Mr. Breuer, for your comments.
BREUER: Thank you, senator.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Senator Grassley.