Capitol Hill- It was another tense hearing for Attorney General Eric Holder on Capitol Hill where he testified before the House Judiciary Committee about Justice Department Oversight today. Holder was asked about and covered a variety of topics, but his personal role and those of his senior Justice Department officials in the lethal Fast and Furious operation were front and center.
Chairman Lamar Smith opened his remarks with Fast and Furious, saying the Department of Justice has not provided enough information about the operation that has left hundreds dead in Mexico and at least one U.S. federal agent, Brian Terry, dead. Smith berated the Justice Department for its failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas that “may shed light on why this program was authorized and who had knowledge of the inappropriate tactics.”
Holder, in his own opening remarks, reiterated his “commitment to working with Congressional leaders.” He also stated that his Justice Department orchestrated “a series of coordinated strikes against violent drug cartels,” while working alongside counterparts in Mexico. However, in the case of Operation Fast and Furious, the Mexican government and ATF agents working in Mexico throughout 2010 were left in the dark about the program, as DOJ sanctioned the sales of thousands of AK-47s and .50 caliber rifles, allowing them to be trafficked across the southern border.
Earlier this week, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, who also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, sent Holder a letter about six Fast and Furious wiretap applications dated 2010 that were approved by his Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein. Both Holder and Breuer have said under oath they knew nothing about the program until the beginning of 2011, after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed. Breuer is the second in command behind Holder at the Justice Department. Today, Holder again doubled down on the recurring defense that senior officials within his Justice Department knew nothing of the gunwalking tactics.
“Fast and Furious was a mid-level, regional investigation,” Holder said. “Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Breuer did not know about the tactics being used in Fast and Furious until the beginning of last year.”
When asked about whether his senior officials in the Justice Department had simply read the wiretap applications, Holder responded by saying his top officials did not read the affidavits and the details of what was in the Fast and Furious wiretaps while trying to talk his way around the questions asked.
“Mr. Attorney General, you are not a good witness. Good witnesses answer the question,” Issa said.
As a refresher, in order to apply for and have a wiretap approved, agents must submit extremely detailed information about a case.
“A reasonable person would only come to the conclusion that senior members of the department of Justice knew about gunwalking tactics in Fast and Furious,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz invited Holder to sit down with himself, Rep. Trey Gowdy and two Democratic Reps. to further discuss Fast and Furious. Holder declined the invitation saying, “With all due respect, I give you four hours a crack,” adding that he has testified about Fast and Furious eight times before Congress.
President Obama’s White House was also under scrutiny about Operation Fast and Furious today, after all, in March 2011 President Obama discussed Eric Holder’s knowledge about Fast and Furious. The problem is, Holder admitted in May 2011 to only knowing about Fast and Furious for “a few weeks.” Holder said today he did not personally brief the White House at any time about the program, especially before December 2010, when Terry was killed.
"How would the White House know about Fast and Furious if they didn't hear it from you?” Chairman Smith asked.
Holder responded by saying the White House would have been informed about Fast and Furious by his staffers. He was then asked if there was any collaboration between the Justice Department and the White House on Fast and Furious messaging. Holder didn’t deny the White House connection and said the DOJ was working with the White House to “get the facts out” about this case.