At a Tuesday House Judicial Committee oversight hearing Attorney General Eric Holder locked horns with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) over Holder’s contempt of Congress citation for purportedly stonewalling investigators with respect to Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF’s fatally-flawed gun running program.
After explaining the significance of the citation, Holder was the first sitting cabinet member to be cited with contempt of Congress, Gohmert asserted that Holder’s refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents relating to Fast and Furious was a sign that he didn’t take the charge seriously.
“I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our Attorney General,” Gohmert said, “but it is important that we have proper oversight.”
“You don’t want to go there, buddy!” a clearly exasperated Holder exclaimed. ”You don’t want to go there, OK? You should not assume that uh that is not a big deal to me. I think it was inappropriate, I think it was unjust, but never think that it was not a big deal to me. Don’t ever think that.”
“Well, I’m just looking for evidence,” Gohmert responded. “And normally, we’re known by our fruits. And there have been no indication that it was a big deal because your department has still not been forthcoming in producing the documents that were the subject of the contempt.”
Under the auspices of the DOJ and the ATF, federal agents instructed law-abiding and responsible gun dealers to sell weapons to suspected straw purchasers who had ties to known Mexican drug cartels. The goal of Fast and Furious was to trace these firearms back to cartel leaders so that law enforcement, on both sides of the border, could make one big raid.
Of course, that never happened. In part, because Mexican officials were largely in the dark about the operation, but also because DOJ and ATF leadership proved to be grossly incompetent, as congressional investigators noted in a Joint Staff Report that extensively examined the operation.
“Though many senior Department officials were keenly aware of Fast and Furious, no one questioned the operation,” the report said. “No one ordered that Fast and Furious be shut down. Instead, senior Department officials let it continue to grow.”
Consequently, approximately 2,000 firearms crossed the U.S.-Mexico border undeterred. Approximately 1,400 of those firearms are still unaccounted for.
As one might imagine, the results of Fast and Furious have been deadly. Mexican authorities estimate that as many as 211 people were murdered with guns linked to Fast and Furious. That estimate does not include slain U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was fatally shot by cartel operatives in 2010 near the U.S.-Mexico border. At least one firearm linked to Fast and Furious was found at the scene. Terry’s untimely death is what sparked the congressional probe.
Holder’s DOJ came under intense scrutiny for the operation and when congressional investigators subpoenaed documents, Holder refused to turn them over. He was then given a contempt of Congress citation. However, President Obama invoked executive privilege to put a block on the request. This, in turn, prompted the Republican-majority House Oversight Committee to file a lawsuit demanding those docs be released.
The case is still ongoing.