Fast and Furious: Issa discusses the Inspector General report

House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) appeared on Fox News Wednesday night to discuss the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the Fast and Furious disaster.  Issa said he felt it was a “good report overall,” but noted that some crucial information, such as the extent of White House involvement in the Fast and Furious program, was not made available to the Inspector General.

Issa said the report went “up the chain to show what went wrong all the way to the very top of Justice,” revealing operational failures, mismanagement, and misleading statements from the Phoenix office of the ATF to the Attorney General’s inner circle.  Issa was not satisfied with the resignation of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, saying that “certainly the cover-up goes further.”  Describing his visit with slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s family yesterday, Issa said the wanted answers about how the Operation Fast and Furious debacle was conceived and executed, but “they also want answers about the cover-up, where for ten months the American people were told that they don’t let guns ‘walk.’  Those false statements came from Justice, all the way to the very top, including Lanny Breuer, and ultimately Eric Holder.”

The IG report includes a glaring error in the matter of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.  As Issa’s investigative partner in the Senate, Charles Grassley, has already pointed out, the report falsely asserts that Breuer had minimal involvement with drafting a misleading February 4, 2011 letter to Senator Grassley, when in fact emails prove he received and commented upon advance drafts of the letter.  Breuer would go on to make false statements to Congress about his role in preparing the letter, but the incorrect assertions in the IG report appear to have been inserted to protect him from repercussions.

Also, the Inspector General was not able to interview several key Fast and Furious figures – perhaps most notably Kevin O’Reilly, the White House national security staffer who was in communication with ATF Special Agent Bill Newell, a major figure in the scandal who was a personal friend.  Emails reviewed by congressional investigators have already confirmed that the two discussed aspects of the gun walking scheme, with Operation Fast and Furious mentioned by name in at least one exchange.  The full extent of White House involvement with the case remains a matter of great interest to investigators.  In fact, one of the questions raised, rather than answered, by the IG report is why President Obama suddenly swooped in at the eleventh hour to stymie investigators with claims of executive privilege.  If anything, the Inspector General’s assessment makes these privilege claims more suspicious than ever.

Issa was not impressed with Attorney General Eric Holder’s speedy claim that the IG report exonerates him.  “My reaction is, one of the critical people in his office – required to brief him, hand-picked by him – resigned today, and it’s still only the tip of the iceberg,” said Issa, referring to Weinstein’s resignation.  “The fact is that just because you’re not convicted doesn’t mean you’re vindicated.  Attorney General Holder didn’t ask the questions, didn’t read the memos, and up and down the chain, the people who worked for him – the political appointees responsible to him – failed to do their job, including denying reading wiretaps that they were responsible for signing.”

Much of Holder’s “vindication” comes from the report shoring up his remarkable “incompetence defense” before House and Senate committees, in which Holder evaded questions of perjury by claiming he just doesn’t know what his Department is up to – even when those hijinks include a program that killed hundreds of Mexican citizens plus a U.S. Border Patrol agent, unleashed hundreds of still-unaccounted-for guns into the underworld, and created an international incident with a Mexican government kept deliberately out of the loop.  The House Oversight Committee has noted passages in the report critical of Holder’s hands-off management style, including the Inspector General’s agreement with Holder’s own Chief of Staff that the connection between Agent Terry’s murder and Operation Fast and Furious should have been brought to Holder’s attention immediately.

“Eric Holder didn’t do his job, didn’t care enough to call the [Terry] family, and today, finally, one of the people who should have been gone a year and a half ago resigned… but only after the IG pointed specifically to him,” said Issa.  He also noted that the Inspector General’s report supports congressional demands for the unsealing of crucial documents Attorney General Holder has consistently refused to provide.