Attorney General Eric Holder, caught lying to Congress when the White House released a trove of emails pertaining to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, fired back with a sizzling letter to top House Oversight and Senate Judiciary members on Friday evening. In honor of Holder’s remarkable defense that he didn’t know about the “gun walking” operations because he didn’t bother reading no less than five briefing memos prepared by his assistants, Congress should have told Holder it didn’t read his letter.
At issue is Holder’s claim, in response to an extremely clear and direct question from House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa, that he only learned about Operation Fast and Furious about a month before his congressional testimony. This operation – and several others like it, such as Operation Castaway in Florida – involved the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, working in conjunction with the FBI, DEA, and even the IRS, permitting known straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels to purchase massive amounts of guns from American dealers and haul them across the border. There was never a serious effort made to track these weapons. They’ve turned up at the site of over 200 murders in Mexico, the scene of U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder, and an increasing number of other crime scenes in the United States.
Holder has also claimed that he didn’t understand Issa’s question, meaning he might have read the name “Operation Fast and Furious” on a memo somewhere, but didn’t know about the tactics used in the operation.
Holder’s new letter to Congress introduces a third excuse: he now claims he was aware of earlier, much smaller gun walking operations conducted by the ATF before he became Attorney General, but he was somehow unaware that multiple agencies of the Justice Department decided to increase the scale of these earlier failures by over 500%, drop all attempts at monitoring the guns with radio tracking devices, and try again. His senior officials supposedly knew about Operation Fast and Furious, but they had not the slightest clue what tactics were involved, and they never discussed it with him.
Holder justifies the thick stone wall he’s constructed around the operation he supposedly didn’t know about as “deference to the review being conducted, at my request, by our Department’s Inspector General.” Why Holder thinks that would excuse his office refusing to hand over piles of devastating documents, heavily redacting what they did hand over, and pressuring ATF agents not to testify – including a remarkable attempt to buffalo Acting ATF Director Ken Melson into keeping his mouth shut by mis-informing him of his legal rights – is anyone’s guess.
Holder is very upset about Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) suggesting the Obama Administration officials behind Fast and Furious could be accessories to murder. He tries the old “hide behind the brave officers on the front line” trick, declaring: “Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms. Those who serve in the ranks of law enforcement are our Nation’s heroes and deserve our Nation’s thanks, not the disrespect that is being heaped on them by those who seek political advantage.”
The Attorney General thinks congressional investigators should be satisfied with the underlings he’s already thrown under the bus, and besides, it’s all Bush’s fault. “New leadership is now in place both at ATF and the United States Attorney’s Office in Arizona,” he explained. “It has become clear that the flawed tactics employed in Fast and Furious were not limited to that operation and were actually employed in an investigation conducted during the prior Administration. Regardless, those tactics should never again be adopted in any investigation.”
Holder’s letter provides a lengthy explanation of the process by which he fails to read the “over a hundred pages of so-called ‘weekly reports’” it receives. Apparently, it’s asking too much to expect the Attorney General of the United States to review a hundred pages of material every week, especially dreary, repetitive attempts to appraise him of an operation involving a huge Mexican cartel buying thousands of guns.
“To be sure, during 2010 I knew generally that ATF was conducting gun trafficking operations along the Southwest Border and elsewhere in the country,” Holder concedes, “since that is a core part of its mission given the large number of firearms flowing to Mexico each year from the United States. More specifically, however, I now understand some senior officials within the Department were aware at the time that there was an operation called Fast and Furious although they were not advised of the unacceptable operation tactics being used in it.”
That sounds halfway plausible… until you remember the exact question Holder perjured himself in response to. Unfortunately for the Attorney General, it was recorded and transcribed:
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.
If the defense offered in his letter to Congress is taken at face value, Holder could have answered that question by saying, “I received memos describing the operation almost a year ago, but I didn’t investigate any further and I never knew what was really going on.” That would have made him look very, very bad, so he saved that excuse until he was accused of perjury.
In response to Holder’s letter, Rep. Issa’s office stated: “If Attorney General Holder had said these things five months ago when Congress asked him about Operation Fast and Furious, it might have been more believable. At this point, however, it’s hard to take at face value a defense that is factually questionable, entirely self-serving, and a still incomplete account of what senior Justice Department officials knew about gun walking.”
The really interesting part of Holder’s missive is the conclusion, in which he claims the Fast and Furious debacle proves more U.S. gun control laws are necessary. That is, of course, the reason many have come to suspect the Obama Administration pushed so many guns across the border – to provide support for domestic gun control politics. Eric Holder should have thought very carefully before adding so much weight to that theory in his letter, but he just couldn’t help himself, because he’s desperate to change the subject from his own conduct.
“As I have said,” Holder pontificates, “the fact that even a single gun was not interdicted in this operation and found its way to Mexico is unacceptable. Equally unacceptable, however, is the fact that too many in Congress are opposed to any discussion of fixing loopholes in our laws that facilitate the staggering flow of guns each year across our border to the south.” He actually goes on to criticize Rep. Issa for rudely cutting off an ATF witness who wanted to talk about “reforms to our laws that would help stem the flow of illegal weapons” during the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal.
It’s interesting that Holder sat still for an entire week of career-threatening outrage before shooting off his letter on Friday night… the same night the White House generally dumps piles of documents it hopes nobody in the media will notice… such as the emails that put Holder in jeopardy of a perjury rap.