In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans questioned Attorney General Eric Holder about the smuggling of weapons to Mexican gun cartels through Operation Fast and Furious, when he knew about its existence and what he did about it when he learned of it.
Republicans pushed Holder on why it took him nine months to respond to memos sent to the Department of Justice.
“I am eager to hear whether the Attorney General thinks that is acceptable and what he intends to do about it,” said Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa).
While the Fast and Furious gun smuggling scandal was at the top of everyone’s mind, and what conservatives specifically wanted to hear about, only a few Republican senators grilled him on it. Democrats on the committee tried to talk about nearly everything else, including treatment of Muslims by the Department of Justice, bath salt regulations, and anti-bullying measures.
The Republicans that did come out swinging on Fast and Furious got Holder to give stammering and often inconsistent testimony.
In his opening statement Holder called Fast and Furious a “local law enforcement operation.”
“Some of the overheated rhetoric might lead you to believe that this local, Arizona-based operation was somehow the cause of the epidemic of gun violence in Mexico,” Holder said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Texas) called Holder out on this statement saying, “This is far from, as you stated earlier, a local law enforcement operation in terms of its impact.”
Cornyn later continued, “Do you still contend that this is a local law enforcement operation?”
Holder responded: “Oh no, no, no don’t misinterpret that, it’s a federal matter. That’s my fault. It was a local law enforcement matter that was of local concern; it was not a national operation.”
Democrats on the committee did little to question Holder on Fast and Furious, asking about other issues, or they tried to make the connection that the operation actually started under President George W. Bush.
Sen. Chuck Schumer said, “There’s been a lot of accusations dealing with the present Administration’s dealings with Fast and Furious, but what has been sort of missing, especially in the House investigation, is that it didn’t start with the Obama administration.”
The operation that Sen. Schumer is referring to is Operation Wide Receiver, a program started under the Bush Administration, working in conjunction with the Mexican government.
Sen. Grassley pointed out the difference between the Bush era operation, Wide Receiver, and Project Gunrunner, which was the Obama era operation that Sen. Schumer did not point out.
“I think his facts are entirely accurate, but he referred to Wide Receiver, but all the facts are in regards to the Hernandez case,” Grassley continued. “I just want to make clear something that has been widely misunderstood.”
Grassley said that the two operations were distinct. The Bush era operation was in cooperation with the Mexican government that used controlled release instead of gun walking.
Mexican law enforcement were “waiting on the other side of the border” Grassley said.
Holder was asked by Cornyn about the distinction between the two operations, to which Holder only said that “they were two different operations.”
“Are you winging this, or do you actually know?” said Cornyn.
Cornyn also had the most intense exchanges with Holder during the entire hearing, asking about the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and whether or not Holder would like to apologize to the family.
“It pains me whenever there is the death of a law enforcement official, especially under the circumstances. It is not fair, however, to assume that the mistakes that happened in Fast and Furious directly led to the death of Agent Terry,” Holder said.
Cornyn also asked whether or not anyone in the Department of Justice has been made accountable for the errors that have been made.
“Can you name me one person who’s been held accountable for this Fast and Furious Operation? Just one in the Department of Justice?” Cornyn said.
Holder responded: “Well we have made a number of changes with regard to personnel both in the Phoenix U.S. Attorney’s Office, also at the ATF Headquarters here. I will certainly await the report that comes out of the Inspector General. And I will assure you and the American people that people will be held accountable for any mistakes that were made in connection with Fast and Furious.”
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