Nixon 2.0: House Oversight Committee Investigates White House Involvement In Eric Holder’s Botched “Fast And Furious” Operations After President Claims Executive Privilage To Hide Incriminating Documents Linking Holder And/Or President To Scandal

June 26, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The chairman of the House oversight committee investigating White House involvement in the botched “gun-walking” program that led to the 2010 death of U.S. Border Patrol agent accused President Obama on Monday of downplaying his involvement in the program or intentionally obstructing the Congress’ inquiry.

Rep. Darrel Issa’s letter to Obama questioned the legal basis of the White House move to withhold subpoenaed documents from the Government Reform and Oversight Committee under protections afforded Obama by executive privilege. The Justice Department denied Issa’s committee the subpoenaed documents last week, prompting the GOP-led committee to vote along party lines to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

The full House is scheduled to consider the contempt citation this week. The White House contends it’s legally entitled to withhold documents related to internal deliberations on policy and advisory discussions among Obama’s senior advisers. It was the first time Obama, who pledged a new era of government transparency, has exerted executive privilege.

Issa said the assertion of executive privilege, which occurred after 16-months of negotiations between his committee and Justice officials over documents related to the gun-walking program called Fast and Furious, raised two troubling questions.

“Either you or your most senior advisers were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it…or, you are asserting a Presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation,” Issa wrote. “To date, the White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the Department with respect to the congressional investigation. The surprising assertion of executive privilege raised the question of whether that is still the case.”

Issa’s committee has subpoenaed documents it believes relevant to Justice and White House deliberations that led to a false Justice Department submission—in Holder’s name—in February 2011 that Fast and Furious was not a gun walking operation. The committee had been told by whistle-blowers that Fast and Furious allowed large quantities of AK-47 firearms and variants to “walk” into Mexico. Two of those firearms were discovered at the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed near Rio Rico, Az., on Dec. 14, 2010.

The White House dismissed Issa’s letter.

“The Congressman’s analysis has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. “Our position is consistent with Executive Branch legal precedent for the past three decades spanning Administrations of both parties, and dating back to President Reagan’s Department of Justice. The Courts have routinely considered deliberative process privilege claims and affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved.”

Issa has at times suggested Fast and Furious might have been initiated as part of a larger push for tighter U.S. gun control laws. The chairman largely abandoned that theory on the Sunday talk shows.

The Bush administration in its second term initiated the gun-walking program in an attempt to prosecute gun-runners and drug traffickers in Mexico. Under a larger program called Operation Gun Runner, an ill-fated program called Operation Wide Receiver was conducted from 2006-2007. It was riddled with inefficiency and poor inter-agency cooperation and communication. It yielded no arrests or indictments on Bush’s watch. The Obama administration reviewed the dormant Bush-era cases and brought charges against nine people accused of low-level gun trafficking offenses. In October 2009, the Obama administration expanded efforts to pursue high-level Mexican drug and arms traffickers. Building on Wide Receiver, efforts at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives greatly expanded the use of surveillance of firearms purchases. These efforts grew into Fast and Furious.

At the heart of Issa’s inquiry is how much Justice and the White House knew about the origins of Fast and Furious, its scope and its operational ambitions.

As he did on the Sunday talk shows, Issa held out hope for a compromise over the disputed documents. The full House has never before voted to hold an attorney general in contempt of Congress.

“I remain hopeful that the Attorney General will produce the specified documents,” Issa said. Short of that, the chairman urged Obama to “define the universe of documents over which you asserted executive privilege and provide the Committee with the legal justification from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).”

Issa acknowledged Justice has provided in excess of 7,600 documents, but said the high-stakes dispute is now over those related to Justice’s initial denial—nearly three months after agent Terry’s death—that that Fast and Furious was a gun-walking operation.

“These key documents would help the Committee understand how and why the Justice Department moved from denying whistle blower allegations to understanding they were true; the identities of officials who attempted to retaliate against whistle blowers,” Issa wrote, adding the committee also want to learn “whether senior (Justice) Department officials are being held to the same standard as lower-level employees who have been blamed for Fast and Furious by their politically-appointed bosses in Washington.”

Issa also asked Obama to explain “what extent were you or your most senior advisers involved in Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it” and sought documents related to “any communications, meetings, and teleconferences between the White House and the Justice Department between February 4, 2011 and June 18, 2012, the day before the Attorney General requested that you assert executive privilege.”

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Disgraced US Attorney General May Face Contempt Vote Today – Still Refusing To Turn Documents Over To House Oversight Committee Investigating His Department’s Botched Operation That Armed Criminals And Mexican Drug Cartel

June 20, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Oversight Committee could proceed Wednesday in considering a contempt measure against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unless he provides at least some of the documents the committee has sought in relation to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched federal firearms sting operation that allowed weapons to reach Mexican drug gangs.

A showdown meeting Tuesday between Eric Holder and committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, failed to resolve their dispute.

“We are disappointed,” Issa told reporters after the meeting. “We never expected to get all the documents. Our hope was and still is that later this evening we’ll get the documents.”

Holder said he offered to provide the documents to Issa on the condition that Issa provided his assurance that doing so would satisfy two committee subpoenas and resolve the dispute.

“I think the ball’s in their court,” Holder told reporters. “They rejected what I thought was an extraordinary offer on our part.”

Asked about whether Issa was open to resolving the issue before the committee meets Wednesday, Holder said: “I think we actually are involved more in political gamesmanship” instead of a sincere effort to get the requested documents.

A Justice Department spokesman reiterated Holder’s position that the documents would show Holder had nothing to hide about his role in Fast and Furious.

After the meeting, Deputy Attorney General James Cole sent a letter to Issa, expressing disappointment.

“Our offer would have provided the committee with unprecedented access to these documents, many of which are not covered by the committee’s subpoenas in this matter,” he wrote. “We had hoped that you shared our interest in bringing this matter to an amicable resolution and we regret that you rejected our extraordinary proposal to do so.”

The meeting in the Capitol building amounted to both sides reiterating positions already staked out through an exchange of letters over the past week.

A committee statement issued before Tuesday’s meeting said it was a chance for Holder to meet the panel’s demands for additional documents, which would allow for a postponement.

“Currently, (the Department of Justice) has not delivered or shown the committee any of the documents it has said it is prepared to produce,” the statement continued. “It is not clear if they will actually produce these documents to the committee before the Wednesday vote to facilitate a postponement.”

Holder, however, said he made an unprecedented offer of documents and a briefing to the committee, which so far has turned him down.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee who also attended the meeting, said Holder was trying to end a protracted standoff with the Republican-led panel.

“He sees this as a never-ending process,” Cummings said in describing Holder’s concerns about the continuing requests for more documentation.

Another person in the room, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, said afterward that he supported Holder and appreciated “that he is going the extra mile to resolve this.”

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also participated in the meeting with Holder and Issa.

“The attorney general wants to trade a briefing and the promise of delivering some small, unspecified set of documents tomorrow for a free pass today,” Grassley said after the meeting. “He wants to turn over only what he wants to turn over and not give us any information about what he’s not turning over. That’s unacceptable. I’m not going to buy a pig in a poke.”

Issa has accused the attorney general of stonewalling an investigation into Fast and Furious and how the Justice Department provided Congress with erroneous information about it. The department says it already has handed over more than 7,000 pages of records to House investigators, and that the remaining material Issa wants could jeopardize criminal prosecutions.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched Operation Fast and Furious out of Arizona to track weapon purchases by Mexican drug cartels. However, it lost track of more than 1,000 firearms that the agency had allowed straw buyers to carry across the border, and two of the lost weapons turned up at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Asked by a reporter about why he was pushing so hard, Issa said it was because the nation and Terry’s family deserved to know as much information as possible about the program linked to Terry’s death.

In particular, Issa’s committee wants documents that show why the Department of Justice decided to withdraw as inaccurate a February 2011 letter sent to Congress that said top officials had only recently learned about Fast and Furious.

The back-and-forth letters exchanged between Holder and Issa before Tuesday’s meeting revealed an incremental negotiation over what the committee wanted and what the Department of Justice was offering to provide.

In a late Monday letter, Issa made clear he wanted the documents ahead of time and also wanted Grassley, a leading Holder critic, to take part.

Holder agreed to a meeting but told Issa he wanted to include Cummings and Leahy. His letter Monday said the purpose of the meeting would be to reach an agreement that would avoid a “constitutional confrontation,” a reference to the committee’s planned vote on the contempt measure.

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Disgraced US Attorney General Eric Holder – Full Of It – Questioned About His Department’s Operation That Supplied Guns To Criminals And Mexican Drug Cartel

June 6, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC  – Attorney General Eric Holder claimed during congressional testimony today that internal Justice Department emails that use the phrase “Fast and Furious” do not refer to the controversial gun-walking operation Fast and Furious.

Under questioning from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who read excerpts of the emails at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Justice Department oversight, Holder claimed that the phrase “Fast and Furious” did not refer to Fast and Furious but instead referred to another gun-walking operation known as “Wide Receiver.”

However, the emails refer to both programs — “Fast and Furious” and the “Tucson case,” from where Wide Receiver was launched — and reveal Justice Department officials discussing how to handle media scrutiny when both operations become public.

Among three of the emails, the second, dated “October 17, 2010 11:07 PM,” was sent by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein to James Trusty and it states: “Do you think we should have Lanny participate in press when Fast and Furious and Laura’s Tucson case [Wide Receiver] are unsealed? It’s a tricky case, given the number of guns that have walked, but it is a significant set of prosecutions.”

In the third email, dated Oct. 18, 2010, James Trusty writes back to Weinstein: “I think so, but the timing will be tricky, too. Looks like we’ll be able to unseal the Tucson case sooner than the Fast and Furious (although this may be just the difference between Nov. and Dec).”

“It’s not clear how much we’re involved in the main F and F [Fast and Furious] case,” reads the email, “but we have Tucson [Wide Receiver] and now a new unrelated case with [redacted] targets. It’s not any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in MX [Mexico], so I’m not sure how much grief we get for ‘guns walking.’ It may be more like ‘Finally, they’re going after people who sent guns down there.’”

Operation Wide Receiver was run out of Tucson, Ariz., between 2006 and 2007 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), a division of the Justice Department.

In his testimony, Holder said that the emails only referred to Operation Wide Receiver.

Holder told the committee: “That refers to Wide Receiver, not to Fast and Furious. The e-mail that you [Rep. Chaffetz] just read [between Trusty and Weinstein] – now this is important – that email referred to Wide Receiver, it did not refer to Fast and Furious. That has to be noted for the record.”

Chaffetz, after a long pause, said, “No, it doesn’t. It says Fast and Furious. ‘Do you think we should have Lanny participate in press when Fast and Furious and Laura’s Tucson case [Wide Receiver] are unsealed?’ It’s specific to Fast and Furious. That is not true, Mr. Attorney General. I’m happy to share it with you.”

Brian Terry, border agent

U.S. Border Agent Brian A. Terry, shot and killed on Dec. 14, 2010, near Rio Rico, Arizona, while trying to catch bandits who target illegal immigrants. (AP Photo)

Operation Fast and Furious was carried out by the ATF. It began in the fall of 2009 and continued into early 2011, during which time the federal government purposefully allowed known or suspected gun smugglers to purchase guns at federally licensed firearms dealers in Arizona. The government did not seek to abort these gun purchases, intercept the smugglers after the purchases, or recover the guns they had purchased.

In some cases, as the government expected they would, the smugglers delivered the guns to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Two rifles sold to a smuggler in the course of Operation Fast and Furious in January 2010 ended up at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

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