Fast and Furious: Wiretap documents confirm senior Justice officials knew about “gun walking”
It’s becoming increasingly clear why Attorney General Eric Holder is so reluctant to hand over subpoenaed documents to Congressional investigators. Today, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) wrote Holder to discuss some wiretaps related to Operation Fast and Furious, the deadly Obama Administration program that put American guns into the hands of Mexican cartel killers.
Holder has always maintained that he and his top deputies were unaware of the outrageous methods employed in Fast and Furious, which involved “walking” American guns across the border, ostensibly to trap cartel bigwigs with firearms charges. No serious effort was made to track the guns. They have a distressing tendency to turn up in close proximity to dead Mexican and American citizens, with hundreds of them still unaccounted for.
“In a May 15, 2012 letter,” Issa reminded Holder, “the Deputy Attorney General reiterated the Department’s position that the ‘inappropriate tactics used in Fast and Furious… were not initiated or authorized by Department leadership in Washington.’ We now know that statement is false.”
Issa knows this because his committee has obtained “copies of six wiretap applications in support of seven wire intercepts utilized during Fast and Furious.” These applications are sealed from public view by judicial order, but Issa’s committee has reviewed them, and found they “show immense detail about questionable investigative tactics was available to the senior officials who reviewed and authorized them.”
“The close involvement of these officials – much greater than previously known – is shocking,” Issa declares. The applications were approved under the authority of Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division. Director of Enforcement Operations Paul M. O’Brien and lead Fast and Furious prosecutor Emory Hurley are addressed in memoranda attached to each application.
Issa says the wiretap applications contain a “remarkable level of detail” about the “objectionable tactics” involved in Operation Fast and Furious… which is a big problem for Attorney General Holder, because he has repeatedly stated, both verbally and in writing, that senior Justice officials were unaware of those objectionable tactics. Supposedly they knew there was an “Operation Fast and Furious” in progress, but they didn’t know it involved arming drug cartels with American guns. They probably thought it had something to do with Vin Diesel and muscle cars.
In fact, Issa recalls that Holder very specifically stated, in November 2011 congressional testimony, that he would be “surprised if the tactics themselves about gun walking were actually contained in those [wiretap applications}. I have not seen them, but I would be surprised if that were the case.”
Holder will have to shore up his long-standing “incompetence” defense, in which he deflects perjury charges by claiming he’s not very good at his job, doesn’t read his emails, and isn’t really sure what his subordinates are up to. Issa’s letter asserts that “even a perfunctory review of the wiretap applications amply demonstrates the immense detail documenting gun walking tactics that should have prompted senior officials in the Criminal Division to shut down the program immediately.”
Although Issa is not at liberty to discuss precise details of the sealed wiretap applications with the public, he reports that the broad outlines of Fast and Furious are clearly visible within the long-suppressed documents. A rather simple gun-buying ring, involving several straw buyers and a lone mastermind, was gobbling up hundreds of guns. “People who had no steady source of income were purchasing large volumes of expensive weapons and paying exclusively in cash,” as Issa puts it. The ATF and DEA knew where the guns were headed. Both ATF agents and supervisors were uncomfortable with how Operation Fast and Furious was going.
“Yet, when presented with this same information – the large volume of high powered weapons, short time-to-crime, repeated straw purchasing, and the termination of surveillance – Department leadership simply rubber-stamped the operation and authorized its unacceptable tactics,” the House Oversight chairman writes. “After having reviewed these applications, we now understand why the Department has been resisting our efforts to secure full cooperation and compliance with the subpoena.”
Issa is not reticent about accusing Holder of deliberately misleading his committee, and he declares it will no longer be possible for the Attorney General to maintain a screen of deniability around his top officials. “It is time for you to honor your commitment to Congress and the American people by holding these individuals accountable,” his letter to Holder concludes.
Holder continues to stare down contempt of Congress charges, as the clock runs out on the Obama Administration. He’s due to testify before the House Judiciary Committee later this week. It should be an interesting hearing.