Attorney General Eric Holder testified today before a contentious House hearing in which Republican members accused him of engaging in a continuing cover-up of Department of Justice activity in the gun-tracing operation known as Fast and Furious.
Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., pointed out that Holder and the Department of Justice were still withholding 93,000 documents. They suggested the committee may need to issue a subpoena to obtain the withheld records if the DOJ refuses to comply voluntarily.
In testimony, Holder admitted that no DOJ employee had been reprimanded or otherwise admonished for their participation in Fast and Furious some 13 months after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in Arizona by Mexican drug-war operatives using guns that traced back to the gun operation.
Under Fast and Furious, the Obama administration allowed weapons to be sold to suspected Mexican drug operatives so they could be traced to the higher echelons of the cartels. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation, lost track of hundreds of weapons and many have been linked to crimes, including the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
In what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated maneuver, Democrats on the committee today repeatedly stressed that the Department of Justice’s gun-walking activity did not begin with Fast and Furious under the Obama administration, but instead dates back to the George W. Bush administration.
Republican members pointed out the Bush program, Operation Wide Receiver, was fundamentally different than Fast and Furious. Wide Receiver was coordinated with Mexican authorities and the weapons were tracked in Mexico. Holder’s DOJ, however did not inform Mexican authorities and there was no effort to track the weapons once they moved across the border.
Democrats also repeatedly pointed out that Holder had answered questions about Fast and Furious before various congressional committees a total of six times, charging the Republicans on the committee were involved in an election year “witch hunt.”
Before the hearing, Issa released a majority report documenting that officials in DOJ headquarters in Washington “had much greater knowledge of, and involvement in, Fast and Furious than [DOJ] has previously acknowledged.”
In one particularly sharp exchange, Issa accused Holder of lying about when he and top officials in the DOJ in Washington first knew about the operation that evolved into Fast and Furious under Holder’s watch.
The majority report charged that for “months, the [DOJ] has stonewalled Committee document requests and refused to comply with Committee subpoenas. The [DOJ] has produced scores of blacked-out pages containing no information and many duplicate documents in order to bolster its page count.”
The report asserted that the DOJ is still withholding 92 percent of the documents it has handed over to the Office of Inspector General. It objected as well to the DOJ decision not to hand over to the committee any documents created after Feb. 4, 2011.
In 2006-2007, Operation Wide Receiver, operating out of the same Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, allowed approximately 200 guns to “walk” into Mexico in an effort to identify higher-ups in the Mexican drug cartels.
In 2009-2011, under the DOJ Fast and Furious program, nearly 2,000 guns were allowed to get into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels, some 1,400 of which yet remain unaccounted for.
Fast and Furious, also operated out of the Phoenix ATF office, working primarily through a small cadre of about 40 straw purchasers, five of whom purchased 70 percent of the weapons through U.S. gun dealers largely based in Arizona that the DOJ had recruited.