Twice in 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder received memos referencing the Fast and Furious program, memos that seemingly undermine the letter of his May 3, 2010 testimony that he heard about the Fast and Furious program over the previous few weeks.
Justice Department officials acknowledge that the memos to Holder reference Fast and Furious as an operation – but they argue the memos do not include details about tactics that allowed guns to cross the border. They say Holder understood the May 2011 question to Holder from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to have been about when the attorney general learned about the controversial tactics, not about the existence of the program.
Republicans aren’t buying it.
“He’s either incompetent or he’s misleading Congress,” responded Becca Watkins, press secretary for the House Oversight Committee, which is chaired by Issa.
A Justice Department official says that “Chairman Issa, of all people, should be familiar with the difference between knowing about an investigation and being aware of questionable tactics employed in that investigation since documents provided to his committee show he was given a briefing that included the Fast and Furious operation in 2010 – a year before the controversy emerged.” In April 2010, Issa was one of several members of Congress briefed on attempts to stop gun smuggling by criminal cartels.
Holder “has consistently said he became aware of the questionable tactics in this operation in early 2011 when ATF agents first raised them publicly, and then promptly asked the Inspector General to investigate the matter,” the Justice Department official said.
On July 5, 2010 Michael Walther, the director of the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center, wrote a memo to Holder mentioning the Fast and the Furious operation. It refers to the Drug Intelligence Center Document and media Exploitation Team at the Phoenix Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s “Operation Fast and the Furious.”
The operation was described as an “investigation, initiated in September 2009 in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Phoenix Police Department, involves a Phoenix-based firearms trafficking ring headed by Manuel Celis-Acosta. Acosta and (redacted) straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug trafficking cartels. They also have direct ties to the Sinaloa Cartel which is suspected of providing $1 million for the purchase of firearms in the greater Phoenix area.”
On October 18, 2010, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer wrote a memo to Holder, noting that among the “SIGNIFICANT UPCOMING EVENTS” would be an October 27 indictment of eight individuals involved with traggicking hundreds of firearms to Mexico. “The sealing will likely last until another investigation, Phoenix-based ‘Operation Fast and Furious,’ is ready for takedown,” Breuer wrote.
On May 3, 2011, Issa asked Holder about two Border Patrol agents killed by guns “that were allowed, as far as we can tell, to deliberately walk out of gun shops under the program often called Fast and Furious,” a program that “allowed for weapons to be sold to straw purchasers, and ultimately many of those weapons are today in the hands of drug cartels and other criminals.”
Issa asked Holder when he first knew about the Fast and Furious program.
Holder replied: “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”