02/02/12 – On Thursday, February 2, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in order to shed new light on Operation ‘Fast and Furious’. The operation was originally designed to monitor the flow of illegal firearms purchased in the United States and smuggled across the border to Mexican drug cartels. Various sources estimate that between hundreds and thousands of weapons were lost and unaccounted for. Outrage surged when two of the missing firearms were found at the site where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010. Since then, the operation and fallout from its discovery have been back in the news. (For more details about Operation Fast and Furious, click here)
In conjunction with its investigation, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued Attorney General Holder a subpoena on October 12, 2011, for documents regarding ‘Operation Fast and Furious’. On January 27, 2012, the Department of Justice produced documents providing information that the House of Oversight and Government Reform Committee believes is evidence of the involvement of senior officials of the Justice Department.
Then, on January 31, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), addressed a letter to Holder in which he accused the attorney general of obstructing the investigation and deceiving the public. In the letter, Issa also refers to the situation as the “Fast and Furious cover-up”. The letter concludes threatening to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress due to the length of time that it took the Justice Department to produce documents following the subpoena last October, as well as a previous subpoena that was issued on March 31, 2011. In that instance, documents were not produced until June 10, 2011.
In his most recent testimony before the Committee, Holder stated that he is awaiting the conclusions of an internal investigation before he acts. For those found responsible, Holder continued, “I can assure you those people will be removed from federal service.”
According to Chairman Issa’s letter to Holder, the documents produced on January 27 demonstrate that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer had knowledge of the operation. Issa cites one e-mail that states, “Breuer suggested allowing straw purchasers to cross into Mexico so SSP (Secretariat of Public Security) can arrest and PGR (Office of the General Prosecutor) can prosecute and convict. Such coordinated operations between the U.S. and Mexico may send a strong message to arms traffickers.” The letter mentions that this statement was made on February 4, 2011, the same day that Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich denied that the Justice Department allowed guns to “walk.”
The following day, the Justice Department declared that Chairman Issa’s letter demonstrated a misunderstanding of the documents. In a five-page letter, signed by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, it is rejected that the documents show that Breuer supported illegal firearms transferring into the hands of Mexican cartels. It argues instead that in the scenario that Breuer suggests, those carrying illegal weapons into Mexico would be arrested at the border and charged in Mexico. This letter mentions that it is therefore not accurate to consider this advocacy for ‘gunwalking’.
As mentioned, in Issa’s letter to Holder, he threatened to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress if the Department of Justice did not produce all documents related to the subpoena of October 12, 2011 by 5:00 p.m. on February 9, 2012. The Department of Justice has rejected this deadline arguing that it would be impossible based on the scope of the request.