Fast and Furious: Issa threatens Holder with contempt charges

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has grown tired of the foot-dragging from Eric Holder’s Justice Department.  On Tuesday, he fired off a scathing letter to the Attorney General, pronouncing himself dismayed that the Justice Department waited an entire year to produce “documents that provide startling new details about the involvement of senior Department officials in what appeared to be the Fast and Furious cover-up.”

By the end of the four-page letter, Issa isn’t talking about “appearances” any more:

Since the Department initially misrepresented the facts and misled Congress, it is necessary to investigate the Department’s response to our investigation.  Your actions lead us to conclude that the Department is actively engaged in a cover-up.  It is essential for the Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs to facilitate the production of documents we have requested so we can complete our investigation.  The Department’s persistent delay tactics make this task increasingly and unreasonably difficult.

(Emphasis mine.)  The way Holder has been treating those House Oversight subpoenas, we’ll soon be talking about his slow response to the investigation of his slow response to the investigation of Fast and Furious.

Among the documents thumping onto Issa’s desk in a cloud of dust and cobwebs are emails showing Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer was still pushing “gun walking” tactics as late as February 4, 2011, even as another Assistant Attorney General, Ronald Weich, was telling Congress that nobody at Justice was walking guns across the border into Mexico.  It’s remarkable how little Attorney General Holder claims to know about the goings-on in his department, with all these assistants running around.

Issa points out that Breuer was a gun-walking advocate as far back as the Bush Administration, during the earlier Operation Wide Receiver – which became briefly famous when Obama Administration apologists thought it might somehow lift some of the Operation Fast and Furious heat.  We stopped hearing about Wide Receiver when those apologists thought it over, and realized that the failure of a smaller, earlier program including actual, if unsuccessful, attempts to track the weapons made the actions of Holder’s DOJ look worse.

February 4, 2011 is an important date, because Holder has flatly refused to hand over any emails from after that date, “consistent with the way in which the Department of Justice has always conducted itself in its interactions.”  Justice Department counsel has also refused to allow witnesses to answer questions about conversations held after February 4.  Issa now calls this position “entirely unacceptable,” because an investigation into the Justice Department cover-up has begun, distinct from the inquiry into Operation Fast and Furious itself. 

If nothing else, we’ve probably heard the last of Holder’s risible claims of “transparency.”  Issa’s letter points out that two months after receiving its first subpoena on March 31, 2011, the Justice Department had produced zero documents.  According to a Fox News report, the leading Senate investigator of Fast and Furious, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), says only 6,000 of the 80,000 documents covered by subpoena have been tendered.  No justification for the withheld documents has been offered.  The stone wall only began cracking when Issa started talking about filing criminal charges.

It looks like the time for such talk has come again, as Issa laid out a deadline for all subpoenaed documents to be delivered by 5:00 PM on February 9.  Holder will also need to provide a detailed privilege log for any documents deemed unsuitable for release.  “If the Department continues to obstruct the congressional inquiry by not providing documents and information,” Issa warns Holder, “this Committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress.”

Holder may very well decide to tough out that contempt citation, since it can be filibustered or otherwise waylaid in Congress.  Also, this Administration hasn’t exactly been shy about usurping or ignoring the “implied” powers of Congress.  Even if the contempt citation sticks, Holder would still receive a court defense before facing the possibility of a fine, or up to a year in federal prison. 

Given Holder’s behavior thus far, and what we’ve already learned about Operation Fast and Furious, he might like those odds better than what could happen to him if the documents he’s been so desperately protecting find their way into the hands of Congressional investigators.  He only has to hold out for a few more months to get past the 2012 election and secure any necessary pardons from President Obama, and then he can leave office with the Left’s illusions about him reasonably intact.