AG Under Fire Over ‘Fast and Furious’: When Did He Know About Program?

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Congressional Republicans today released additional Justice Department memos to the Attorney General Eric Holder about a controversial gun trafficking investigation  which they say are evidence Holder misled them. The Justice Department rejected the claims, suggesting Congressional Republicans are playing traditional Washington gotcha politics, without the gotcha.


In September 2009 , the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms launched an investigation targeting some Phoenix area suspected gun runners who had been supplying weapons to a Mexican cartel.  But ATF decide to employ what would turn out to be a very controversial strategy: federal agents  would allow guns to “walk”— or flow into  Mexico – while ATF tried to identify and charge upper level cartel members who were buying the guns. The huge problem: the guns turned up in numerous crime scenes in Mexico, including murders. And at least one of the weapons was recovered at the scene where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was gunned down.

Attorney General Holder maintained he did not know the specifics of the strategy when pressed at a Congressional hearing last spring.

Rep. Darell Issa, R-Calif., who is spearheading the Congressional investigation, asked Holder, “When did you first know about the program officially, I believe, called Fast and Furious? To the best of your knowledge, what date?”

Holder answered: “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.”

But today,  Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa,  released at least five weekly memos to Holder beginning in July 2010, that provide updates on Operation Fast and Furious.  The memos lay out that ATF and a number of other agencies were investigating Phoenix area straw buyers who were “responsible for the purchase of 1500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug trafficking cartels.”

“With the fairly detailed information that the Attorney General read, it seems the logical question for the Attorney General after reading in the memo would be ‘why haven’t we stopped them?’” Grassley said.  “And if he didn’t ask the questions, why didn’t he or somebody in his office?”

“Attorney General Holder has failed to give Congress and the American people an honest account of what he and other senior Justice Department officials knew about gunwalking and Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa said. ” The lack of candor and honesty from our nation’s chief law enforcement officials in this matter is deeply disturbing.”

Justice Department officials say the memos are only generic updates and offer no detail or specifics of ATF strategy’s to allow the guns to pass in large numbers.  Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler offered an aggressive rebuttal.

“Here they go again.  Chairman Issa and Senator Grassley can re-package and re-release the same documents every other day and it won’t change the facts: the Attorney General’s testimony to both the House and Senate committees has been consistent and truthful,” Schmaler said.

“These brief entries buried in a few written reports reveal nothing of the dangerous tactics that were employed in this operation, and apparently, another operation during the Bush Administration.  Instead of peddling selectively-edited transcripts and distorting questions and answers in some distracting political game of gotcha, these congressional leaders should be focusing their attention on the underlying public safety problem we confront as a Nation – that too many guns are being illegally trafficked to Mexico.

“There are thousands of these types of investigations going on at any given time across this country and rather than focusing on whether the Attorney General read about or could recall the name of one of those district operations mentioned a few times in 100-plus page report sent to his staff over a year ago, Chairman Issa and Senator Grassley would do better to conduct legitimate oversight.”

“When the Attorney General first learned of these troubling tactics in early 2011, he took swift and substantive action by asking the Inspector General to investigate the matter and making sure agents and prosecutors in field knew that such tactics violated Department policy and would not be tolerated.  If Congress wants to conduct real oversight on behalf of the American people, they should follow the Attorney General’s lead and treat this problem with the seriousness and substance it deserves.”

Today President Obama defended Holder after a question from ABC’s Jake Tapper.

“– I have complete confidence in Attorney General Holder in how he handles his office,” the president said. “He has been very aggressive in going after gun-running and cash transactions that are going to these transnational drug cartels in Mexico…   I think both he and I would have been very unhappy if somebody had suggested that guns were allowed to pass through that could have been prevented by the United States of America.”

Expect the jousting to continue.