The Obama Justice Department is hitting back against looming contempt charges for Attorney General Eric Holder over stonewalling and the refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena issued back in October 2011. Deputy Attorney General James Cole is defending his boss against allegations of a cover-up and against contempt charges.
In a letter from Cole to Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, Cole writes, "We believe that a contempt proceeding would be unwarranted given the information the Department has disclosed to the Committee to date; unprecedented given the law enforcement sensitivities at issue; and ill-advised given the damage it would cause to relations between the Executive and Legislative Branches." Cole also wrote, "The Department continues to believe, however, that efforts to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution of this matter have not been fully exhausted and that both the Committee and the Department must continue to work constructively to avoid conflict."
What information has DOJ disclosed to Congress? Out of 80,000 documents requested, the Committee has received just 7,000, most of which are so redacted, they offer nothing but blocks of black ink.
"The Department has provided the Committee with a large volume of documents, including materials that the Department does not normally disclose to Congress. Your May 10, 2012, letter acknowledges that the Department has produced a large volume of documents on grounds that some were redacted. We do not believe this to be a fair criticism," Cole wrote.
In the case of Fast and Furious, relations between the Executive branch and Legislative branch can't get much worse. Both DOJ and the White House have refused to provide key Fast and Furious witnesses for questioning, including White House National Security staffer Kevin O'Reilly, who was in contact with former Phoenix ATF Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell about the lethal operation. O'Reilly has been shipped off to Iraq and is "unavailable" for questioning. In the eyes of Obama's DOJ, working "constructively to avoid conflict" really means asking Congress not to continue their investigation in order to divert attention away from who, at the highest levels, approved the deadly program.
Despite these facts, Cole continues to defend his boss and claim the Justice Department has cooperated with requests from the Committee and gives Holder credit for his handling of the situation. "Shortly after the Attorney General learned of the inappropriate tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious, he asked the Department's Acting Inspector General (editor addition: who just so happened to have worked for Holder during his time as U.S. Attorney for D.C.) conduct of review. Moreover, the Attorney General instructed me to issue a directive to the field making clear that those tactics should not be used again."
When did Holder really learn about the tactics? According to his own testimony under oath in front of Congress on May 3, 2011, a "few weeks." Or did Holder know about the tactics in February 2011? Or did he know about it nearly a year before his "few weeks" claim as memos dated as early as July 2010 show? The fact is, Holder has changed his testimony multiple times, under oath in front of Congress.
And the cover-up? There is no cover-up, insists Cole:
"The Committee has also raised questions about the lack of documents produced by the Department reflecting the participation of senior Department officials in devising the inappropriate tactics used in Fast and Furious. Far from reflecting a 'cover-up,' as some have claimed, the lack of documents makes clear that these tactics had their origin in the field in Arizona and not among Department leaders in Washington."
Cole makes this statement with 73,000 documents still being withheld from Congress. Not to mention, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Holder's #2 man, approved wiretaps for Fast and Furious, which require detailed descriptions of why they are needed. From the beginning, DOJ has taken the approach of blaming a few "low level" "rogue" agents for Fast and Furious, but evidence shows exactly the opposite. High level officials devised, implemented and approved this program. Keep in mind, Fast and Furious was no small program. It involved allowing 2500 AK-47s and .50-caliber rifles (.50 caliber can take down a helicopter) to be trafficked across an international border and spanned multiple government agencies including DOJ, DHS, FBI, IRS and the national security team at the White House. Low level agents in the field were reprimanded and retaliated against for questioning the program. For more on this, and the motivations behind the program, read my book.
The main point of Cole's letter was this: Contempt is an extraordinary step that is unwarranted and inappropriate here.
"Congress has never held an Attorney General in contempt based on a failure to provide documents relating to open criminal investigations and prosecutions."
Well, Mr. Cole, never has any Justice Department approved a program as sinister and fatal as Operation Fast and Furious, either. It's pathetic too that there is not one mention of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was murdered by thugs in the Arizona desert wielding weapons given to them through Fast and Furious, in Cole's letter. Afterall, Holder still denies Terry's murder is connected in any way to the program, despite guns left at the scene being sold through the program to straw purchaser Jaime Avila in January 2010.
You can read the entire letter here.