An update to a story from yesterday: Patrick Cunningham, chief of the Criminal Division of the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office, has “stunned congressional staff” by announcing that he’ll take the Fifth when he responds to House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa’s subpoena next week. Cunningham got slapped with the subpoena after he suddenly backed out of a scheduled appearance before the committee, and Issa’s patience with his delaying tactics ran out.
William LaJeunesse of Fox News reports on the letter Cunningham’s attorney sent to Issa:
“Department of Justice officials have reported to the Committee that my client relayed inaccurate information to the Department upon which it relied in preparing its initial response to Congress. If, as you claim, Department officials have blamed my client, they have blamed him unfairly,” the letter to Issa says.
Romero claims Cunningham did nothing wrong and acted in good faith, but the Department of Justice in Washington is making him the fall guy, claiming he failed to accurately provide the Oversight Committee with information on the execution of Fast and Furious.
“To avoid needless preparation by the Committee and its staff for a deposition next week, I am writing to advise you that my client is going to assert his constitutional privilege not to be compelled to be a witness against himself.” Romero told Issa.
The letter also claims that the reason the elusive Cunningham ducked out of this week’s interview – which he was saying, only last Friday, that he couldn’t wait to give – was that Issa’s committee didn’t provide him with documents “supporting the allegation in your letter that my client had anything to do with approving the ‘unacceptable tactics used in Fast and Furious.”
The attorney goes on to say “it is a matter of public record that the Fast and Furious investigation began in 2009, months before my client even started at the United States Attorney’s Office in 2010.” Nice dodge, but no one is alleging that Cunningham launched the program. He is accused of approving its tactics, which he could certainly have done after getting with the program in 2010.
As LaJeunesse points out, “This schism is the first big break in what has been a unified front in the government’s defense of itself in the gun-running scandal. Cunningham claims he is a victim of a conflict between two branches of government and will not be compelled to be a witness against himself, and make a statement that could be later used by a grand jury or special prosecutor to indict him on criminal charges.”
Big breaks are the first step in cracking through stone walls.
Update: Rep. Issa just released a statement in reaction to the eyebrow-raising decision of a senior DOJ official taking the Fifth over his role in a cover-up:
The assertion of the fifth amendment by a senior Justice official is a significant indictment of the Department’s integrity in Operation Fast and Furious. The former head of the ATF has previously told the committee that the Justice Department is managing its response to Operation Fast and Furious in a manner designed to protect its political appointees. This is the first time anyone has asserted their fifth amendment right in this investigation and heightens concerns that the Justice Department’s motivation for refusing to hand over subpoenaed materials is a desire to shield responsible officials from criminal charges and other embarrassment.
Issa wonders if it’s plausible Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t know that Cunningham’s role in the Fast and Furious cover-up involved activities that could get him prosecuted, if he testified honestly about them. Answer: maybe! Remember, Holder’s perjury defense is that he’s a rank incompetent who has no idea what the Justice Department is up to. Also, Holder believes that you’re only lying if you feel like you’re lying, so a carefully preserved state of blissful ignorance helps him sleep at night.
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