CBS News, which already found evidence that ATF Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell lied to Congress when describing his contact with White House National Security staffer Kevil O’Reilly, kept digging through the documents dumped by the White House last Friday, and found a much bigger story lurking among the emails: what appears to be evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder lied to Congress, in response to a direct question.
New documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial Fast and Furious operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his statement to Congress.
On May 3, 2011, Holder told a Judiciary Committee hearing, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”
Yet internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.
In a July 2010 memo, Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, told Holder straw buyers in the Operation Fast and Furious case “are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels.”
Also, on Oct.18, 2010, one of Holder’s chief deputies, Lanny Breuer, chief of the department’s Criminal Division, told Holder in a memo that prosecutors were ready to issue indictments in Operation Fast and Furious.
It’s not just Holder on the hook for lying, either. The latest batch of emails disperse the entire Justice Department smokescreen surrounding the “gun walker” operations, in which American guns were deliberately allowed to “walk” across the border into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Justice Department officials have always tried to paint this as a rogue ATF operation driven off the rails by a couple of incompetent and over-zealous supervisors, but that excuse just became permanently inoperative, as CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson says “the new documents leave no doubt that high-level Justice officials knew guns were being ‘walked’”:
Two Justice Department officials mulled it over in an email exchange Oct. 18, 2010. “It’s a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked but is a significant set of prosecutions,” says Jason Weinstein, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division. Deputy Chief of the National Gang Unit James Trusty replies “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.”
DOJ spokesmen claim the officials in those emails were “talking about a different case started before Eric Holder became Attorney General,” which is rather difficult to square with the comment about “the number of guns that have walked.” There were gun walking operations prior to the Obama Administration, but they were far smaller – Holder’s DOJ increased the number of guns being walked by a factor of ten to fifteen times. Previous operations also featured the kind of relatively careful surveillance so conspicuously absent in the Holder era, when agents who tried to pursue gun buyers were told to stand down.
As for Holder, he’s tried two different, and equally outrageous, defenses in the hours since the CBS story broke. In both cases, Holder portrays himself as a dangerous incompetent instead of a liar, which is not exactly an argument for keeping him in the Attorney General’s office.
The first excuse from Holder was offered to CBS News, and involved him claiming he misunderstood the simple and direct questions he was asked by the House Oversight committee. Courtesy of the Gun Rights Examiner, here is the exact text of the question asked by Rep. Darrell Issa, and the Attorney General’s reply:
ISSA: Mr. Attorney General, we have two Border Patrol agents who are dead, who were killed by guns that were allowed, as far as we can tell, to deliberately walk out of gun shops under the program often called Fast and Furious. This program, as you know — and the President’s been asked about it, you’ve been asked about it – allowed for weapons to be sold to straw purchasers, and ultimately, many of those weapons are today in the hands of drug cartels and other criminals. When did you first know about the program, officially, I believe, called Fast and Furious? To the best of your knowledge, what date?
HOLDER: I’m not sure of the exact date but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.
Is anything about that question and answer even slightly unclear? Bear in mind that Dick Cheney’s advisor, Scooter Libby, did jail time for giving investigators the wrong date when asked when he first learned the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Libby was only off by one month… and we later learned that he wasn’t even the one who disclosed Plame’s identity to the press. Also, Libby wasn’t lying about an operation that has killed both Mexican and American citizens.
Holder’s other “incompetence defense,” as reported by the Daily Caller:
The Justice Department responded to this new information by saying that Holder receives many updates, memos and briefings daily and doesn’t always read them all — even if official records show he was informed of the intimate details of a case.
Wow. Just… wow. Never before in American history has a high official tried to claim so desperately that he’s utterly unqualified for his job, as a defense against perjury charges. Even if you’re inclined to accept the excuse that Holder’s in-box contains a lot of stuff he never gets around to reading, including reports about lunatic operations that could be interpreted as acts of war against Mexico, the new email revelations shred Holder’s claims that Fast and Furious never “reached into the upper levels of the Justice Department,” as related by CNN in September:
During a televised Justice Department news conference, Holder acknowledged the ATF’s gun-running operation designed to track weapons to Mexican drug cartels “was clearly a flawed enforcement effort.”
But Holder rejected the idea investigators will find that either he or his top aides had any knowledge of the operation.
“The notion that this reaches into the upper levels of the Justice Department is something that at this point I don’t think is supported by the facts and I think once we examine it and once the facts are revealed we’ll see that’s not the case,” Holder told reporters.
Are we supposed to believe Holder is so inept that he doesn’t even know who prepares the reports he isn’t reading? One of the memos he claims not to have seen came from Lanny Breuer, who is the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. Doesn’t he count as “upper level?”
It was time for Eric Holder to leave the Justice Department long ago. Now it’s time for him to be escorted from the building.
Update: In referring to the punishment leveled at Scooter Libby for lying to congressional investigators, I forgot that while he was sentenced to jail time, the sentence was commuted. The only person who actually went to jail in the Plame affair was journalist Judith Miller. I apologize for any confusion caused by this error.
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