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Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is publicly circulating a briefing paper and draft contempt-of-Congress resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder over the Department of Justice’s stonewalling in the investigation into the gun-walking scandal known as Operation Fast and Furious.

True to form, Holder is shrugging off the threat and calling foul.

A lawyer for DOJ sent a letter in which he said the department “strongly disputes” the assertion that it has not been cooperating with Congress. He pointed out that the DOJ has provided over 7,600 pages of documents to congressional investigators so far and allowed numerous department officials to testify. He then cited Bush and Reagan administration arguments against releasing information about ongoing investigations to Congress and about releasing information about how members of the department planned to deal with a congressional investigation. He concluded by saying that it looks like Issa is more interested in political gamesmanship than working toward a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Those arguments ring hollow when you consider that Operation Fast and Furious was shut down, and the investigation started a year and a half ago, and those 7,600 pages represent only about 10 percent of the documents Issa’s committee has subpoenaed.

The fact that DOJ has repeatedly made false or misleading assertions and then had to backpedal when their duplicity was exposed, strongly suggests an active intention to cover up certain aspects of the operation.

Even if the contempt charge is taken all the way to a formal trial in the House, it’s unlikely to force cooperation. The last two contempt citations, against Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, were passed in 2008 and 2007, respectively, and both of those citations are still unresolved and in litigation.

At the very least, this draft resolution helps to raise awareness of the situation, and it does an excellent job of spelling out the specifics of the Fast and Furious case. It  points out many of the major flaws of the operation and inconsistencies in the DOJ’s story. The full resolution and an explanatory memo are posted at FirearmsCoaltion.org.

We commend Rep. Issa for producing this important document and moving toward following through on his threats, but we renew our call for a fully empowered and truly independent investigator to get to the bottom of the F&F debacle. The operation clearly violated U.S. and Mexican law and helped to fuel the horrific violence being waged in Mexico and on the border. Everyone responsible for authorizing and executing the operation – along with those who have been actively covering it up – must be exposed and held accountable. We don’t think that is possible without a thorough, independent investigation.

As long as Holder and Obama supporters can claim that this investigation is some sort of partisan witch hunt, the whole process will remain tainted. Facts like the White House refusing to allow a former staffer to testify, a U.S. attorney refusing to answer questions by citing his Fifth Amendment rights and Eric Holder installing close friends as interim director of ATF and DOJ inspector general – tasked with the internal investigation of the matter – all beg for closer scrutiny.

As the draft contempt resolution makes clear, Fast and Furious was not a “rogue” operation carried out by one regional ATF office; it was considered a flagship operation in the Obama administration’s war on gun trafficking to Mexico. The operation was part of a DOJ “Strike Force” involving the FBI, DEA, ICE and DHS under the control of the DOJ and U.S. attorney’s office.

So much promise was seen in the plan that it was given extra funding and authorized “advanced investigative techniques” such as wire taps – techniques which require oversight and approval from top-ranking officials in the DOJ. Congressional investigators want to know exactly who those officials were and how high up in the administration the operation went.

The other key question is: What were the real objectives of the operation?

The stated objective, connecting high ranking cartel leaders with the guns, is ludicrous. Consider: ATF facilitated bulk firearms purchases much larger than dealers would normally make and much larger than needed to make a case against the buyers and their bosses. ATF made no effort to interdict, follow, track or trace the guns; the guns didn’t “get away from them,” they were intentionally allowed to “walk.” ATF let them walk and then waited for them to show up at crime scenes.

DOJ knew that the highest ranking targets identified in the operation were unindictable informants for the FBI. They knew the various layers of the criminal command structure before the first gun was allowed to “walk.” And since Mexican authorities were neither involved in, nor informed about the operation, there is no way ATF or DOJ could have followed up with arrests of anyone in Mexico. It is clear that the Mexican government was never supposed to find out about Operation Fast and Furious.

The only established mechanism for investigating corruption in the DOJ lies within the DOJ itself. Clearly that doesn’t work. Legislators must establish a Special Prosecutor’s Office to handle this type of situation and bring accountability to the “halls of justice” now and in the future.

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