During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today on Capitol Hill, Texas Senator Ted Cruz heavily questioned Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice position on drones, enforcing the law and Operation Fast and Furious. As Guy documented extensively earlier, Holder has made it clear his DOJ can kill American citizens on U.S. soil with drones in "extraordinary circumstances." Cruz repeatedly asked Holder if this stance was constitutional, to which Holder refused to give a clear yes or no answer. The word "constitutional" never came out of Holder's mouth.* (see update)
"I have to tell you I find it remarkable that in that hypothetical which is deliberately very simple you are unable to give a simple one word, one syllable answer: no," Cruz said. "You keep saying appropriate. My question isn't about propriety; my question is about whether something constitutional or not."
On Operation Fast and Furious, Cruz asked Holder about White House involvement in the program considering President Obama asserted executive privilege last summer to prevent the overturning of DOJ documents about the case, despite denying any involvement or knowledge about the operation. Remember, three members of the White House national security team received emails about the program during the time it was active and before Congress and the public knew about it. Naturally, Holder said the White House only communicated about Fast and Furious with the Department of Justice after the congressional investigation started in early 2011.
"To my knowledge, there are no communications dealing with the operational component of Fast and Furious," Holder said.
In July 2011, former ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division Bill Newell admitted to sending an email to former White House National Security Adviser Kevin O'Reilly (after the admission, O'Reilly was shipped off to Iraq for a State Department job and made unavailable for questioning). The email contained a map showing where guns were ending up in Mexico.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley also brought up Operation Fast and Furious in addition to a number of other issues during the hearing.
There are some areas on the topic of gun violence that the Congress should take up and address. I continue to believe there is room to discuss a law prohibiting illegal straw purchases and weapons trafficking. I also believe we must address the Justice Department’s internal procedures for signing off on risky operations where the illegal sale of firearms is sanctioned or coerced by the Justice Department to ensure that these firearms do not fall into the hands of criminals. This was a significant problem with the ATF’s failed Operation Fast & Furious. High level officials were not required to individually sign off on these operations and as such, when the ugly details of the ATF allowing nearly 2,000 guns to fall into the hands of bad guys, no one was held accountable for their actions. Instead, Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, said he never read the affidavit attached the wiretap application referencing the tactics ATF was using, despite the fact that his signature ultimately approved the operation. This must be fixed to ensure that those sanctioning such conduct are ultimately responsible for ensuring the procedure is used properly and not poorly executed.
The Fast and Furious case is currently wrapped up in court as the Oversight Committee and the Department of Justice battle over the release of documents and executive privilege.
UPDATE (Guy) - Just a clarification about the fascinating Cruz/Holder exchange: Cruz repeatedly asked about the constitutionality of a domestic drone strike against a US citizen who does not pose an imminent threat of bodily harm, even if ample evidence exists that the individual in question is a terrorist or enemy combatant. As Katie notes, Holder kept responding through the prism of appropriateness, while seeming to duck the constitutional principle. Finally, after several rounds of asking, re-asking and some badgering, Cruz managed to wring a meaningful answer out of Holder. Namely, no, the government can't "drone" a US citizen on US soil if he or she is not in the immediate process of carrying out a violent attack. It took awhile, but Holder finally got there. As I write this, Rand Paul's filibuster has entered its third hour. He is demanding that the president personally acknowledge and affirm this constitutional circumscription. One more note on Ted Cruz. Despite the Left's "McCarthyism!" hysteria, the junior Senator from Texas is proving himself to be quite well known and well regarded in his home state. In today's hearing, he put his elite education to laudable use.