Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said today he obtained leaked information on a failed cross-border gun-tracing investigation by a “furious group of whistleblowers” tired of “stonewalling” by Attorney General Eric Holder.
Issa made his comments at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in which Holder was repeatedly pressed by Republican lawmakers on the failed gun investigation, known as Fast and Furious. Issa at one point told Holder he was “not a good witness.”
The latest development in the long-running controversy involves wiretap applications filed under federal seal that Issa has sought in his quest to hold the highest ranking Justice Department officials who knew of the failed operation accountable. Issa has been the primary investigator of the matter from his perch as chairman of another panel, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
The Department of Justice signed off on wiretap applications for operation Fast and Furious in 2010 on multiple dates: April 10, May 7, May 17, June 2 and July 2, Issa said. He told Holder the information was leaked “by a furious group of whistleblowers tired of your stonewalling.” The leaked wiretap applications “indicate that a number of key individuals in your administration in fact were responsible for information contained in here that clearly shows the tactics of Fast and Furious were known,” he added.
Holder said that senior officials at the department read summaries of wiretap applications to ensure that probable cause to investigate exists, but do not always know the “nitty gritty” of every affidavit. ”They do not look at the affidavits to see all that is involved in the application,” he added. Holder asserted operation Fast and Furious began in department field offices in Arizona, describing it as a “mid-level regional investigation” undertaken jointly by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office.
The Attorney General said he first learned of the controversial gun-walking tactics in February 2011, nearly two months after two Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene of a shootout in Arizona that killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The guns had been purchased in the U.S. by straw buyers and allowed by law enforcement to “walk” over the border in an attempt to trace the weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
Several Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Reps. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), and Issa, asked the Attorney General whether Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Jason Weinstein, and chief of the Organized Crime and Gang Section James Trusty knew of the gun-walking tactics prior to agent Terry’s death.
Holder answered, as he has before, that Breuer, Weinstein and Trusty knew of gun-walking tactics used in a George W. Bush administration operation dubbed Wide Receiver. But Weinstein and Breuer did not know about gun-walking in Operation Fast and Furious until early 2011, Holder said.
In a June 5 letter to Holder, Issa asserted the department knew of the gun-walking tactics before Agent Terry’s death.
Utah’s Chaffetz questioned Holder about an email chain between Weinstein and Trusty which, the lawmaker said, indicates senior department officials knew about the gun-walking. Holder insisted the emails refer to gun-walking tactics used in Wide Receiver, not Fast and Furious.
In the hearing, Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois said the Fast and Furious questioning has “become politically motivated in an attempt to embarrass the administration.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), meanwhile, called the Justice Department’s actions arrogant, undemocratic, and an insult to the rule of law.
Issa has been trying to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for what the California lawmaker says is the department’s refusal to hand over all documents being sought by Congress in its investigation. The department, however, has said that it is negotiating with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to find a resolution to the matter short of contempt of Congress, and that documents it hasn’t handed over are related to ongoing law enforcement actions.