Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed complaints (here and here) with the Justice Department and the Office of Congressional Ethics alleging Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) violated federal law by including material from Fast and Furious wiretap applications in the Congressional Record.
“It is ironic that by revealing the warrant application to further his effort to have Attorney General Eric Holder held in contempt, Rep. Issa was willing to flirt with his own potential contempt charge,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a news release. ”No member of Congress should be permitted to avoid accountability for deliberately violating federal law by cloaking himself in the Constitution.”
The watchdog group asserts Issa opted to insert the information into the Congressional Record — rather than leaking it directly to reporters — because he is protected by the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution, which says members of Congress “shall not be questioned” for any speech or debate in either House.
Thus, Sloan asserts, Issa stealthily allowed the privileged information inside the wiretap affidavits to leak but used the Speech and Debate Clause to shield himself.
“Rather than releasing the warrant application to the media directly, which would clearly have been prosecutable, Rep. Issa inserted the information into the Congressional Record,” Sloan wrote. She alleges Issa and his staff may also have directed reporters to the Congressional Record.
An Issa spokesman blasted CREW as a liberal-leaning group.
“It is shameful that an organization purporting to support good and transparent government is instead making itself complicit in an effort to cover-up a reckless government effort that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent,” Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, said in statement emailed to The Hill.
“While CREW’s liberal leanings and dependence on anonymous donors have long been known, this latest action further exposes the naked partisan nature of an organization run by Democratic operatives,” Hill added.
Issa, who spear-headed Republican efforts to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, obtained six wiretap applications in May from a “furious whistleblower tired of Department of Justice stonewalling,” he said. On May 24, Issa wrote a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) in which he described a March 15, 2010, wiretap application given to him by the “furious whistleblower.” He later submitted the letter to the Congressional Record, which makes it publicly available.
Issa did not include the actual wiretap application in the Congressional Record. The letter, however, quotes directly from the wiretap affidavit.
“The enclosed wiretap affidavit contains clear information that agents were willfully allowing known straw buyers to acquire firearms for drug cartels and failing to interdict them — in some cases even allowing them to walk to Mexico,” he wrote. “In particular, the affidavit explicitly describes the most ontroversial tactic of all: abandoning surveillance of known straw purchasers, resulting in the failure to interdict firearms.”
The affidavit includes transcripts of conversations obtained through a wiretap. Issa included the conversations in his letter to Cummings and says they demonstrate that “key suspects” in Operation Fast and Furious were trafficking guns. He implies the Justice Department epartment must have known about the gun-walking because the wiretap applications were signed by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco under Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer’s guidance.
One December 2009 conversation outlined in Issa’s letter reads:
Unknown Person 1 asks, ‘‘Can you hold them [firearms] for me there for a little while there?’’
Target 1 responds,‘‘Well it’s that I do not want to have them at home, dude, because there is a lot of … uh, it’s too much heat at my house.’’
Unknown Person 1 then asked where he could store the firearms and Target 1 responds, ‘‘[m]ake arrangements with that guy [Straw Purchaser X], call him back and make arrangements with him.’’
The affidavit also indicates the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives was aware that since March 2009, more than 1,000 guns had already been purchased and trafficked to Mexico; describes how smugglers were trafficking guns into Mexico; and details how Operation Fast and Furious guns had been found at crime scenes in Mexico.
Operation Fast and Furious was a botched gun-walking investigation coordinated jointly by the ATF and Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office. Officials allegedly allowed straw-buyers to purchase roughly 2000 guns along the southwest border and and tracked them in an attempt to nab higher-ups in Mexican drug cartels. The operation failed, and hundreds of guns were lost. Two were found at the scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s death. Terry died in a shootout between Mexican bandits and Border Patrol agents in 2010.