Perjury. Impeachment. Contempt. Murder. Coverup.
Attorney General Holder will appear before the House Oversight Committee this morning on Capitol Hill to answer questions specifically surrounding his role in the the lethal Operation Fast and Furious program. Holder will have a ton of explaining to do including: when he was briefed about the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, whether he was informed by his deputy chief of staff at the time Monty Wilkinson about Fast and Furious guns being used to kill Terry the same day of his murder, why the Justice Department has been stonewalling Congress for information and more.
Just this week, emails surfaced showing Holder was briefed about Brian Terry's death just hours after he was murdered in the early morning hours on December 15, 2010. Later in the day, Wilkinson was told directly by former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke that the guns found at the murder scene were part of Operation Fast and Furious. It is unknown whether Wilkinson told Holder about the connection between the murder weapons and Fast and Furious, but it's fair to assume he did.
Last night, the Terry family filed a $25 million wrongful death claim against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, Arizona, where the guns found at Terry's murder scene were purchased by Jaime Avila in January 2010.
In a 65-page complaint, served on the government on Wednesday, attorneys for the family claim ATF "wrongdoing" in Operation Fast and Furious.
“ATF's failures were not only negligent but in violation of ATF's own policies and procedures," the complaint claims.
The claim alleges that "but for defendants' negligent and illegal sales ... Brian Terry would not have been murdered in the Arizona desert on Dec. 14, 2010."
The family is seeking a jury trial.
The government now has six months to respond or the Terry family will file a suit for the $25 million.
The family has also filed a claim against the Lone Wolf Trading Company seeking unspecified damages for negligence in selling the weapons to the purchaser and aiding and abetting in Mexican drug cartels’ conduct.
The claim says Lone Wolf knowingly sold "hundreds of weapons" to various straw purchasers and in turn realized "hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from these sales."
According to the claim, agent Terry was patrolling near Rio Rico on the night of Dec. 14, 2010 when he was shot and killed by criminals yielding assault rifles. Those rifles were traced to a straw purchaser for Mexican drug cartels in Arizona who the ATF knew about and allowed to deliver the weapons to the cartels.
“The murder of agent Terry and other acts of violent crimes were the natural consequence of ATF's decision to let dangerous weapons designed to kill human beings 'walk' into the hands of violent drug-trafficking gangs,” the complaint reads.
The claim also contends that the circumstances that led to Terry’s murder were not isolated events, but rather there were thousands of guns purchased under occasional ATF surveillance with no way of tracking all the weapons from straw purchases.
Here is a preview of Chairman Issa's opening statement:
Over the past year, the ATF program known as Operation Fast and Furious has been the subject of a joint investigation by this committee and Sen. Chuck Grassley, who serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When this investigation began, the Department of Justice took the position that allegations by whistleblowers about reckless tactics and decision making in this operation were false.
Late last year, after months of investigation, the Justice Department finally acknowledged the allegations were true. Fast and Furious was both reckless and flawed.
The Justice Department, however, has been less than forthcoming in cooperating with the efforts of Congressional investigators to determine exactly what happened and who was responsible:
• The Justice Department has delivered fewer than 8% of the 80,000 documents we know it has identified as being related to this flawed operation.
• It has refused to allow investigators access to numerous witnesses who participated in the operation – one witness, after being served with a subpoena, invoked his Fifth Amendment right to protection against self-incrimination rather than answer questions.
• Justice Department now asserts that many documents pertaining to internal discussions and decision making about its response to Operation Fast and Furious are off-limits to investigators.
The American people deserve better from our nation's top law enforcement agency. Thursday's hearing will feature the nation's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Holder, who will be asked to explain his decision to withhold this factual evidence from investigators. What he is concerned this information would reveal? Why is the Department trying to keep its internal discussions about Operation Fast and Furious from after February 4, 2011 secret? Why did it take nearly nine months for the Justice Department to acknowledge its earlier denials were false? Why did senior Justice Department officials who knew about and received briefings on the operation fail to stop it? Should Americans have confidence in their chief law enforcement agency even though these same officials remain in their posts?
There is now broad bipartisan agreement that the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious has exposed a serious and deadly failure of government. We know that the life of a brave Border Patrol agent has been lost along with countless Mexican citizens who have been victimized by guns from Operation Fast and Furious. Attorney General Holder has acknowledged that the danger created by Fast and Furious will continue for years.
This hearing is not about controversial struggles between gun control advocates and supporters of the Second Amendment. It is about the unifying, and what should be bipartisan, expectation that the Justice Department be held to a high standard and that those who failed to meet this standard should be held accountable. I look forward to Attorney General Holder's testimony.
Here is a preview of part of Holder's opening statement:
Chairman Issa, Ranking Member Cummings, and members of the Committee, I am here today because I understand and appreciate the importance of congressional oversight, and because I am committed to ensuring the highest standards of integrity and professionalism at the Department of Justice. That’s precisely what I pledged to do – exactly three years ago tomorrow – when I was sworn in as Attorney General. And it is exactly what I have done.
If some of my comments today sound familiar, it is because this marks the sixth time I have answered questions about this operation before a congressional committee in the last year. Let me start, however, with something that cannot be said often enough: allowing guns to “walk” – whether in this Administration or in the prior one – is wholly unacceptable. This tactic of not interdicting weapons, despite having the ability and legal authority to do so, appears to have been adopted in a misguided effort to stem the alarming number of illegal firearms that are trafficked each year from the United States to Mexico. To be sure, stopping this dangerous flow of weapons is a laudable – and critical – goal. But attempting to achieve it by using such inappropriate tactics is neither acceptable nor excusable.
That’s why, when I learned early last year about the allegations raised by ATF agents involved with Fast and Furious, I took action. In addition to requesting an Inspector General investigation last February, I ordered that a directive be sent prohibiting the use of such tactics. There also have been important personnel changes in the Department. And vital reforms reflecting the lessons we have learned from Operation Fast and Furious have been implemented.
Congress has sought answers to questions about law enforcement Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. And my colleagues and I at the Department of Justice have worked diligently to provide those answers. In addition to my frequent testimony before Congress, I have answered – and am continuing to answer – questions that have been submitted for the record during previous hearings. The Department also has responded to more than three dozen letters from members of Congress and facilitated numerous witness interviews. We also have submitted or made available for review more than 6,400 pages of documents to congressional investigators. This has been a significant undertaking for Department employees – and our efforts in this regard remain ongoing.
Just this week, Issa threatened to hold Holder in contempt of Congress should he continue his stonewalling of the Oversight Committee investigation into Fast and Furious. Holder has responded by promising even more stonewalling.
As I testified in a previous hearing, the Department does not intend to produce additional deliberative materials about the response to congressional oversight or media requests that post- date the commencement of congressional review.
Last night, the committee released this graphic, showing just how little access the Justice Department has granted Congress in their inquiry.
On top of continuing the stonewalling of the investigation, Holder will be sure to push for more gun control measures, as he does in his opening statement when referring to Demand Letter 3, or the requirement that border state gun dealers report the sale of more than one long rifle to the same person in a week.
Unfortunately, in 2011, a majority of House Members – including all members of the majority on this Committee – voted to keep law enforcement in the dark when individuals purchase multiple semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and long guns – like AK-47s – in gun shops in four southwest-border states.
Despite Congress voting against the measure, the Justice Department pushed through the requirement back in July anyway. Oversight Democrats led by Ranking Member Elijah Cummings are sure to cover for Holder today, especially after releasing a "report" earlier this week claiming to clear any Justice Department officials wrong doing during the lethal program, despite evidence showing the opposite.
I will be live tweeting the hearing below for minute by minute updates of Holder's statements. You can watch the video of the hearing online here. Feel free to join in on the conversation in the comment section below.