Moving forward with contempt proceedings against the Attorney General in the congressional Fast and Furious inquiry would be “unwarranted” and “unprecedented” given the “law enforcement sensitivities at issue,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole on Tuesday.
In a letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Cole said the department believes the “core questions” of the inquiry into the handling of the botched gun-running investigation have been answered.
“Far from reflecting a ‘cover-up,’ as some have claimed,” Cole wrote, “the lack of documents makes clear that these tactics had their origin in the field in Arizona and not among Department leaders in Washington.”
Cole wrote that the department has provided more than 7,600 pages of documents to date. Issa and some other Republicans on the committee have pushed for the contempt of Congress proceedings because they say the department has not cooperated in providing thousands of additional documents related to the committee’s investigation. The Justice Department has said it cannot provide certain information because it could taint the integrity of ongoing criminal investigations. Cole wrote in his letter that moving forward with contempt proceedings would be “ill-advised given the damage it would cause to relations between the Executive and Legislative Branches.”
What’s more, Cole noted that Congress has never held an Attorney General in contempt “based on failure to provide documents relating to open criminal investigations and prosecutions.”
Fast and Furious has dominated headlines in recent months, after Issa and his committee opened an inquiry into the gun-tracing operation. The investigation — overseen by the Justice Department but run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — aimed to track some 2,000 guns sold to straw buyers in the United States and ultimately funneled to Mexico. The investigation sought to track the weapons’ movements in order to get proof of Mexican cartel involvement. But the operation backfired, with ATF losing track of hundreds of weapons. Two of the guns from the investigation were recovered at the scene of a shootout between U.S. Border Patrol agents and Mexican bandidts in December 2010. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was killed in the gunfire.
“We are absolutely committed to bringing the killers of Brian Terry and Jaime Zapata to justice,” Cole wrote in the letter. “And, we are committed to seeing the continuing investigations and prosecutions arising out of Operation Fast and Furious to a successful conclusion.”