Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before Congress for the sixth time about his involvement in and knowledge of the fatally flawed gun walking program known as Operation Fast and Furious.
Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa (R-CA) alluded to the déjà vu nature of the proceedings in his opening remarks.
“It’s Groundhog Day, and Brian Terry’s family and taxpayers are still waiting for Fast and Furious answers from the Justice Department,” Issa said before the hearings. “We will not wait until the next Groundhog Day to get answers for the American people.”
However, despite many of the tough questions the Oversight committee asked of Holder, the answers they received were less than satisfying. In short, Holder continued to stonewall investigators.
“You’ve not taken action. You’ve not fired anybody. You haven’t changed policy,” Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said. “It strikes to me as incompetence in terms of management.”
Holder responded calmly by saying, “I can assure you those people will be removed from federal service.”
Any possible charges will not be filed until the department has the evidence to get a conviction, Holder added. He pointed out that this process takes time.
Fast and Furious was designed to crackdown on Mexican drug cartel kingpins by tracking and monitoring illegally purchased firearms as they crossed the border from the U.S. into war-torn Mexico.
However, hundreds of weapons were lost or unaccounted for during the operation. At least two of those lost weapons were recovered at a site where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in Dec. 2010.
Frustrated by their lack of progress with the investigation, there’s arguably no smoking gun with Holder’s fingerprints, the committee is requesting more documents in the hope that it will unveil conclusive evidence that Holder both knew about and sanctioned Fast and Furious (there’s been circumstantial evidence to suggest Holder knew about the operation).
Thus far the Justice Department has given Congress approximately 6,400 documents related to the program. But members of the committee want all of the 93,000 documents given to the department’s inspector general.
“The conclusion I come to here is that there are things in there that you don’t want us to see,” Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) said.
“I think we are trying to meet the legitimate requests that have been made by this committee,” Holder said. “We are acting in the way that executive branch agencies have always acted.”
However, Burton threatened Holder, saying that if the DOJ doesn’t turn over more documents, Chairman Issa should hold Holder in contempt of Congress.
Issa preempted Burton’s threat in a letter he released on Tuesday.
Issa said in his letter to Holder that, “if the department continues to obstruct the congressional inquiry by not providing documents and information, this committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress.”
“There’s no attempt at any kind of cover-up,” Holder iterated at the hearing in response to questions related to the unreleased documents. “We’ve shared huge amounts of information and we will continue to share huge amounts of information.”
All of this criticism of Holder has some House Democrats running to his defense.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D- NY) said that the hearings were a “politically motivated fishing trip. … This investigation continues on its vast and curious mission to fix the symptoms rather than the cause of the deadly gun victims on the southern border.”
Also on Tuesday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) released an 89-page analysis defending the top brass of the Justice Department. The report was based on the five previous congressional hearings, testimony from 22 witnesses and about 12,000 pages of documents.
The report backs Holder’s claim that the committee has no evidence that contradicts Holder’s statements of not being aware of gun walking allegations until 2011.
Moreover, the report concludes, “Operation Fast and Furious was the latest in a series of fatally flawed operations run by ATF agents in Phoenix and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office. Far from a strategy that was ‘directed and planned by the highest levels of the Department of Justice,’ as some have alleged, the committee has obtained no evidence that Operation Fast and Furious was conceived or directed by high-level political appointees at Department of Justice headquarters.”
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, which is conducting the Senate’s investigation of Fast and Furious, scoffed at the Democrats’ findings.
“The idea that senior political appointees have clean hands in these gun-walking scandals doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Grassley said in a news release. “They ignored the warning signs and failed to put a stop to it or hold anyone accountable.”
Perhaps, getting lost in all of this is not whether Holder and company has clean and/or dirty hands in Fast and Furious. It’s the fact that they should have known about gun walking and didn’t (allegedly). Many argue that this is grounds for dismissal all by itself.
But Holder does not appear to feel the least bit culpable for this horribly botched gun walking operation.
“I’m proud of the work that I’ve done as attorney general of the United States,” he said. “You should respect the fact that I hold an office that is deserving of the respect.”
Looking ahead, and unless something really big breaks, the only one who might be reprimanded at the top levels of government is Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who has admitted to having at least some knowledge of gun walking in the past.