Attorney General Eric Holder is set to appear before the House Oversight committee on Thursday, and it looks like it’s going to be a long conversation, judging from a Fox News report today:
Rep. Darrell Issa is launching a congressional investigation into the Drug Enforcement Administration following claims that the agency helped drug cartels launder money — an operation the lawmaker said bears striking resemblance to the failed “Fast and Furious” anti-gunrunning probe.
Both operations were run by agencies within the Justice Department. Fast and Furious, which Issa and other lawmakers have been investigating all year, was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The alleged money-laundering operation was run by the DEA.
While Fast and Furious was designed to allow federal agents to trace the flow of illegal weapons to the Mexican cartels, the DEA operation reportedly was designed to allow agents to trace the flow of money.
“It looks like it’s the same sort of a program,” Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Fox News on Tuesday.
(Emphasis mine.) It’s hard for drug cartels to de-stabilize the Mexican government with guns alone. It takes a lot of money, too. It was nice of the Justice Department to help out with that. If we discover the Holder DOJ was also pushing lawyers across the border with a half-baked plan to track them as they migrated to drug kingpins, we’ll have the Warren Zevon trifecta.
How much money are we talking about here? According to the New York Times, “a lot.”
Today, in operations supervised by the Justice Department and orchestrated to get around sovereignty restrictions, the United States is running numerous undercover laundering investigations against Mexico’s most powerful cartels. One D.E.A. official said it was not unusual for American agents to pick up two or three loads of Mexican drug money each week. A second official said that as Mexican cartels extended their operations from Latin America to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, the reach of the operations had grown as well. When asked how much money had been laundered as a part of the operations, the official would only say, “A lot.”
“If you’re going to get into the business of laundering money,” the official added, “then you have to be able to launder money.”
But don’t worry, because according to the Times’ sources, the operation was pretty much revenue-neutral. Just like ObamaCare!
The former officials said that the drug agency tried to seize as much money as it laundered — partly in the fees the operatives charged traffickers for their services and another part in carefully choreographed arrests at pickup points identified by their undercover operatives.
And the former officials said that federal law enforcement agencies had to seek Justice Department approval to launder amounts greater than $10 million in any single operation. But they said that the cap was treated more as a guideline than a rule, and that it had been waived on many occasions to attract the interest of high-value targets.
“They tell you they’re bringing you $250,000, and they bring you a million,” one former agent said of the traffickers. “What’s the agent supposed to do then, tell them no, he can’t do it? They’ll kill him.”
And what kind of bang has the DEA been getting for its narco-buck?
It is not clear whether such operations are worth the risks. So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels’ operations, and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the D.E.A. seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a tiny fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year.
Holder had better be prepared to make that all sound a lot better when he squares off with House Oversight. Mindful of how frequently the dog eats Holders’ homework, Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent the Attorney General a letter warning that he’d better come prepared with something more than lame excuses about unread memos piled up in his in-box:
The existence of such a program again calls your leadership into question. The managerial structure you have implemented lacks appropriate operational safeguards to prevent the implementation of such dangerous schemes. The consequences have been disastrous. It is almost unfathomable to contemplate the degree to which the United States Government has made itself an accomplice to the Mexican drug trade, which has thus far left more than 40,000 people dead in Mexico since December 2006.
Given your upcoming testimony this Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, it is imperative that Congress be apprised of the true dimensions of these alleged operations immediately. Please arrange to provide a briefing to my staff by no later than Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 5:00 PM to address these allegations.
Holder needs to turn in a fabulous performance, because as the Daily Caller reports today – in continuing defiance of Holder’s strict instructions to stop reporting about this sort of thing – a Democrat representative is finally considering a call for Holder’s resignation:
Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez told The Daily Caller on Tuesday that he thinks “it’s much too early” for him to call for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation over Operation Fast and Furious, but that he’s watching the congressional investigation closely and may do so soon.
“I agree, for the loss of life, for our fine men and women as well as possibly hundreds of Mexican nationals, in this war against drugs and against the cartels,” Gutierrez said in an interview on Capitol Hill. “And, I think that mistakes should be looked at, evaluated and ultimately, those that are responsible — but I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t have all of the answers. I don’t have all of the information. I would hope that those that have already rushed to judgment, which I don’t want to do, with the Attorney General — He’s going to come and testify, I’m going to listen to that testimony.”
Gutierrez claimed that if he finds Holder “with knowledge and premeditation and foresight, was totally irresponsible, then he should leave,” but hastened to add that he thinks the 52 Republican congressmen and 2 Senators who have already called for Holder to step down are just “playing politics.” (You might be able to add Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona to make it three Senators, since he told the Daily Caller on Monday “there are a lot of reasons the country would be better off without Eric Holder as Attorney General.”)
Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairman Rep Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) provided a window into the novel Democrat managerial style when he excused Holder’s incompetence by saying, “You can never expect that the person at the very top, who may have some knowledge of the operation, is going to be there for the day to day operations and the intricacies and the carrying out of the specific aspects of it.” Keep that quote in mind the next time you hear a Democrat nattering on about “accountability.”
Still, it’s remotely possible to drag the odd Democrat past party politics and convince them to do the right thing. We’ll have to check back with Rep. Gutierrez after Thursday’s hearings.
Update: I incorrectly attributed Rep. Gonzalez’ comment to Gutierrez originally, and have corrected the reference. Apologies for the error.