Friday, December 9, 2011

Atty. Gen. Holder accuses critics of politicizing 'Fast and Furious' case

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. testifies on "Fast and Furious" at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (Yuri Gripas / Reuters / December 8, 2011)


Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., under fire for his Justice Department's Operation Fast and Furious, accused his Republican congressional critics of politicizing the failed gun-tracking program and warned that many of the more than 2,000 lost firearms will continue to show up on the southwest border "for years to come."

The attorney general testified at a lengthy hearing Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, where Republican members echoed calls for Holder's resignation and, in several instances, called for "heads to roll" at the top tier of the Department of Justice.

"Why haven't you terminated the people involved?" asked Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has helped lead the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious for nearly a year now.

FULL COVERAGE: ATF's Fast and Furious scandal

Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin suggested that some political appointees at Justice should be removed immediately, and asked Holder when he was going to "clean up this mess." He added, "If you don't get to the bottom of this," the only other option might be "impeachment."

But Holder suggested that it was this kind of rhetoric that was politicizing the furor over the gun-tracking operation in which federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents purposely allowed weapons to be illegally purchased and circulated on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Two of the weapons turned up after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in southern Arizona a year ago, and scores of others were reportedly used in violent crimes in Mexico. While the aim of Fast and Furious was to track weapons, instead it ended up significantly arming the Mexican drug cartels.

"It is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come," Holder also warned. "Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border."

He added in pointed language to Republicans on the panel that "as we work to avoid future losses and further mistakes, it is unfortunate that some have used inflammatory and inappropriate rhetoric about one particular tragedy that occurred near the southwest border in an effort to score political points."

Holder has maintained he was unaware of Fast and Furious until months after Agent Brian Terry's death last December and that he has since requested a Justice Department inspector general's investigation and ordered his employees never to open similar operations that include illegal gun-"walking."

Republicans have countered that he should have known much earlier, and if he did not, it suggests he is "incompetent" to continue in his post. They also have hinted that Holder might even have approved or condoned the gun-walking tactics under Fast and Furious.
The investigation was conducted by the ATF's Phoenix field office between fall 2009 and January 2011.

Under questioning by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Holder conceded he has not spoken with President Obama, other Obama Cabinet members or the president of Mexico about Fast and Furious.

"You don't have 15 minutes to pick up the phone?" Chaffetz asked.

Holder said others in his department have discussed Fast and Furious with top U.S. and Mexico officials, and that he has made some "personnel changes" at ATF headquarters.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said simply about Fast and Furious: "Horrible screw-up. Horrible screw-up." 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gowdy Questions AG Holder on Key Players Involved with Fast & Furious

Gowdy to AG Holder: Wiretaps for Operation Fast & Furious and Hierarchy of Key DOJ Players

Issa on Fast & Furious: AG Holder and DOJ Continue To Delay Oversight Investigation

Chaffetz to AG Holder: Where Is Communication B/W DOJ, Obama Administration, & Mexican Gov't?

You Can Delegate Authority, But You Cannot Delegate Responsibility

Holder and Chaffetz Fight Over Fast And Furious

Adams Grills Holder Over Fast and Furious Operation

Federal Gun Smuggling Testimony From Attorney General Eric Holder Before The House Judiciary Committee

Issa Pushes Holder for Truth on Handling of Fast and Furious

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

House Judiciary Hearing December 8th 2011 Attorney General Eric Holder Testifying

Hearing Information

Hearing on: Oversight Hearing on the United States Department of Justice
Thursday 12/8/2011 - 9:30 a.m.

2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Full Committee
By Direction of the Chairman

Grassley Calls for Resignation of Justice Department Official in Gunwalking Tragedy

Prepared Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Holding People Accountable for Gunwalking
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I have been investigating ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious for almost 11 months now.

It is past time for accountability at the senior levels of the Justice Department.

That accountability needs to start with the head of the Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer.

I believe it is time for him to go, and I’d like to explain why I have come to that conclusion.

The Justice Department denied in a letter to me on February 4, 2011 that ATF had ever walked guns.

Mr. Breuer had been consulted in the drafting of that erroneous letter.

On May 2, 2011, rather than acknowledging the increasingly obvious facts and apologizing for its February letter, the Justice Department reiterated its denial.  Thus, when the Justice Department revealed on October 31 of this year that Breuer had known as far back as April 2010 about gunwalking at ATF, I was astounded.

This was a shocking revelation.

The controversy about gunwalking in Fast and Furious had been escalating steadily for 10 months.

The Justice Department had publicly denied to Congress that ATF would ever walk guns.

Yet, the head of the Criminal Division, Mr. Breuer knew otherwise and said nothing.

He knew that the same Field Division was responsible for walking guns in a 2006-2007 case called Wide Receiver.  But the real shock was how Mr. Breuer had responded within his own Department when that earlier gunwalking was first brought to his attention in April 2010.

He didn’t tell the Attorney General.

He didn’t tell the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff.

He didn’t tell the Deputy Attorney General.

He didn’t tell the Inspector General.

Instead, he simply told his deputy to meet with ATF leadership and inform them of the gunwalking “so they know the bad stuff that could come out.”

Later, his deputy outlined a strategy to “announce the case without highlighting the negative part of the story and risking embarrassing ATF.”

For 18 months, the embarrassing truth about ATF gunwalking in Wide Receiver and Breuer’s knowledge of it was successfully hidden.

It only came out because of the Congressional investigation into gunwalking in Fast and Furious.

The public outrage over Fast and Furious comes from average Americans who cannot understand why their own government would intentionally allow criminals to illegally buy weapons for trafficking to Mexico.

Next week, it will be one year since Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered by bandits armed with guns as a direct result of this policy of letting guns walk.

The Terry family and all Americans who sympathize with their loss are rightfully outraged and astonished that our own government would do such a thing.

Yet when Mr. Breuer learned of a case where ATF walked guns in a very similar way, all he did was give ATF a “heads up.” 

There seems to be a vast gulf between what outrages the American people and what outrages Lanny Breuer.  Mr. Breuer showed a complete lack of judgment by failing to object to the gunwalking that he knew about in April 2010.

If Mr. Breuer had reacted to gunwalking in Wide Receiver the way most Americans reacted to gunwalking in Fast and Furious, he would have taken steps to stop it and hold accountable everyone involved.

Fast and Furious might have been stopped in its tracks.

When Mr. Breuer came before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism the day after those revelations, I gave him a chance to explain himself.

I listened to what he had to say.

He told us that he “thought that … dealing with the leadership of ATF was sufficient and reasonable.”

Clearly, it was not sufficient.

Mr. Breuer even admitted as much, saying: “I regret that I did not alert others within the leadership of the Department of Justice to the tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver when they first came to my attention.”

He regrets not bringing gunwalking in Wide Receiver to the attention of the Attorney General, but what about bringing it to the attention of Congress?

He didn’t even step forward to express his regret until emails that detailed his knowledge were about to be produced under Congressional subpoena.

It is astounding that it took the public controversy over Fast and Furious to help the chief of the Criminal Division realize that walking guns is unacceptable.

He’d had nine months after the February 4 letter to step forward, correct the record, and come clean with the American public.

He’d had 18 months after learning of gunwalking in Wide Reciever to put a stop to it and hold people accountable.

He failed to do so.

So during his testimony, I asked him point blank if he reviewed that February 4 letter before it was sent to me.

His misleading answers to these questions form the basis for my second reason for calling on Mr. Breuer to resign.

He responded that he couldn’t say for sure but suggested that he did not review the letter.  He said: “[A]t that time, I was in Mexico dealing with the very real issues that we are all so committed to.”

Now, last Friday the Justice Department withdrew their February 4th letter to me because of its “inaccuracies.”

The department also turned over documents under subpoena about who participated in the drafting and review of the letter.

So imagine my surprise when I discover from documents provided Friday night that that Mr.  Breuer was far more informed during the drafting of that letter than he admitted before the Judiciary Committee.

In fact, Mr. Breuer got frequent updates on the status of the letter while he was in Mexico.

He was sent versions of the letter four times.

Two versions were emailed to Mr. Breuer on February 4, after he’d returned from Mexico, including the version of the letter that was ultimately sent to me that day.

At that time, he forwarded the letter to his personal email account.

Mr. Breuer’s deputy also sent him two drafts of the letter while he was in Mexico, and he also forwarded one of those to his personal email account.

We do not know whether he did that in order to access it on a larger screen than a government-issued Blackberry or whether he engaged in any further discussion about the letter in his non-government email account.

However, we do know that in response to the draft received in Mexico, he wrote to one of the main drafters of the letter, “As usual, great work.”

The Justice Department excluded Breuer’s compliment about the content of the draft from the set of emails it released to the press on Friday.

That evening, Mr. Breuer submitted answers to written questions.  He wrote:

“I have no recollection of having [seen the letter] and, given that I was on official travel that week and given the scope of my duties as Assistant Attorney General, I think it is exceedingly unlikely that I did so.”

So as late as Friday night, Mr. Breuer was still trying to minimize his role in reviewing the letter despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Why would Mr. Breuer say “great work” about a letter he claims not to have read?

It just isn’t credible that someone like Mr. Breuer would forget about his involvement in a matter like this.

Mr. Breuer’s failure to be candid and forthcoming before this body irreparably harms his credibility.

His complete lack of judgment and failure to deal with gunwalking when he first learned of it in April 2010, was bad enough, but this is the final straw.

Mr. Breuer has lost my confidence in his ability to effectively serve the Justice Department.

If you can’t be straight with Congress, you don’t need to be running the Criminal Division.

It’s time to stop spinning and start taking responsibility.

I have long said that the highest-ranking official who knew about gunwalking in Operation Fast and Furious needs to be held accountable.

That standard applies no less to officials who knew about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver.

Gunwalking is unacceptable no matter when it occurred.

Documents make clear that Assistant Attorney General Breuer was the highest-ranking official in the Justice Department who knew about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver.

He did nothing to correct the problems, alert others to the issue, take responsibility, or even admit what he knew until he was forced to by the evidence.

Therefore, I believe the Attorney General needs to ask for Mr. Breuer’s resignation and remove him from office if he refuses.

If Mr. Breuer wants to do the honorable thing, he should resign of his own accord.

Now I’m not someone who flippantly calls for resignations.

I’ve done oversight for many years, and in all that time, I don’t ever remember coming across a government official who so blatantly placed sparing agencies embarrassment over protecting the lives of citizens.

He has failed in his job of ensuring that the government operates properly, including that people are held accountable.

Because of that, Mr. Breuer needs to go immediately.

Anything less will show the American people that the Justice Department isn’t serious about being honest with Congress in our attempt to get to the bottom of this.

Just last night, the Justice Department sent a letter refusing to provide several Justice Department staff for transcribed interviews.

The letter explicitly goes back on the assurances I received when I consented to proceed with the confirmation of three senior Justice Department officials.

One of my conditions for agreeing to proceed with those nominations was that officials who agreed to voluntary interviews in this investigation would have either a personal lawyer present or a Department lawyer present, but not both.

I personally met with the Attorney General and he had that condition listed on a piece of paper in front of him.

It looked as if he had read it and was familiar with it, yet he never objected to that condition.

Dozens of witness interviews have been conducted under that understanding with no problem.

The only difference now is that instead of ATF witnesses, we are now seeking to interview Justice Department witnesses.

Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

There’s no reason to change the rules in the middle of the game.

I was relying on the Attorney General and the other officials at the Department to honor their agreement.

Apparently, that’s not going to happen.

Fortunately, Chairman Issa has the ability to require the witnesses to appear via subpoena if they refuse to appear voluntarily under the conditions that the Department previously agreed to.

I am confident that he will do that if it becomes necessary.  And, I will take whatever steps I have to take here in the Senate to encourage the Department to reconsider and stick to its original agreement.

Grassley Calls for Top Justice Official's Resignation Over Gunrunning Operations

Sen. Charles Grassley called Wednesday for one of Attorney General Eric Holder's top deputies to resign over controversial federal gunrunning probes, becoming the highest-ranking lawmaker to demand a Justice Department resignation over the scandal. 

In a fiery speech on the Senate floor, Grassley called for Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division, to step down. 

Grassley, R-Iowa, who as ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee has been investigating the Fast and Furious case for nearly a year, said it is "past time for accountability" at the senior levels of the Justice Department. 
He accused Breuer of withholding information about gunwalking operations inside the department. 
"Mr. Breuer has lost my confidence in his ability to effectively serve the Justice Department," Grassley said. 
Grassley cited two specific complaints about Breuer's involvement in two separate gunrunning probes. 

First, he accused Breuer of withholding information from Congress and the attorney general after he learned in April 2010 about an earlier gunwalking operation during the latter years of the George W. Bush administration called Wide Receiver. He claimed that had Breuer spoken up, the subsequent operation known as Fast and Furious could have been stopped. 

That operation was linked to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last year. 

Grassley also slammed Breuer Wednesday for his public accounts of his knowledge of Fast and Furious. Breuer has suggested he did not review a February 2011 letter from Justice to Congress that erroneously stated the ATF did not allow guns to walk into Mexico. However, Grassley said that a trove of Fast and Furious documents turned over by the Justice Department Friday revealed that Breuer received several updates on the February letter while he was on travel to Mexico. 

Grassley said Breuer even responded to one of the drafts, saying, "As usual, great work." 

While Breuer still denies any recollection of seeing the draft, Grassley said Breuer's claims are not credible. 

"His complete lack of judgment and failure to deal with gunwalking when he first learned of it in April 2010 was bad enough, but this is the final straw," Grassley said. "If you can't be straight with the Congress, you don't need to be running the Criminal Division. It's time to stop spinning and start taking responsibility."

Grassley's charged statements come ahead of a hearing on the House side Thursday where Holder is set to testify. 

Grassley: It’s time for Lanny Breuer to go

By Matthew Boyle - The Daily Caller

Lanny Breuer and Eric Holder testify - Getty Images
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has led the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious with House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, called for Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer to step down immediately.

Breuer, the head of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, is Attorney General Eric Holder’s top deputy.

“I have been investigating … Operation Fast and Furious for almost 11 months now,” Grassley said on the Senate floor on Wednesday, according to prepared remarks. “It is past time for accountability at the senior levels of the Justice Department. That accountability needs to start with the head of the Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer.”

Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program overseen by the DOJ. The operation facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers. Straw purchasers are people who can legally purchase guns in the United States with the intention of illegally trafficking them into Mexico.

At least 300 people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Grassley said he thinks it’s “time for [Breuer] to go,” because he was involved in providing false information to Congress about gun walking.

“The Justice Department denied in a letter to me on February 4, 2011 that ATF had ever walked guns,” Grassley said. “Mr. Breuer had been consulted in the drafting of that erroneous letter.”

“On May 2, 2011, rather than acknowledging the increasingly obvious facts and apologizing for its February letter, the Justice Department reiterated its denial,” Grassley continued. “Thus, when the Justice Department revealed on October 31 of this year that Breuer had known as far back as April 2010 about gun walking at ATF, I was astounded.”

Breuer had known about gun walking occurring during the Bush administration, which employed a program similar to Fast and Furious called Operation Wide Receiver. Evidence that has come out during Grassley and Issa’s congressional investigation into Fast and Furious has shown that Breuer has known about gun walking occurring since April 2010.

“For 18 months, the embarrassing truth about ATF gun walking in Wide Receiver — and Breuer’s knowledge of it — was successfully hidden,” Grassley said. “It only came out because of the congressional investigation into gun walking in Fast and Furious. The public outrage over Fast and Furious comes from average Americans who cannot understand why their own government would intentionally allow criminals to illegally buy weapons for trafficking to Mexico.”

At this point, there’s still no concrete evidence Holder knew of Operation Fast and Furious. He was, however, sent briefings that contained intimate details of the operation.

“This investigation [Fast and Furious, which is named in the memo] — initiated in September 2009 in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Phoenix Police Department —involves a Phoenix-based firearms trafficking ring headed by Manuel Celis-Acosta,” the memo addressed to Holder reads,“Celis-Acosta and straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels. They also have direct ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, which is suspected of providing $1 million for the purchase of firearms in the greater Phoenix area.”

Holder claims he didn’t receive and didn’t read the memos, though they were addressed to him personally.
Grassley made clear, too, that the investigation won’t end with a Breuer resignation and that he plans to continue digging to find more of the truth surrounding Fast and Furious.

“Just last night, the Justice Department sent a letter refusing to provide several Justice Department staff for transcribed interviews,” Grassley said. “The letter explicitly goes back on the assurances I received when I consented to proceed with the confirmation of three senior Justice Department officials. One of my conditions for agreeing to proceed with those nominations was that officials who agreed to voluntary interviews in this investigation would have either a personal lawyer present or a department lawyer present, but not both.”

“I personally met with the attorney general and he had that condition listed on a piece of paper in front of him,” Grassley added. “It looked as if he had read it and was familiar with it, yet he never objected to that condition. Dozens of witness interviews have been conducted under that understanding with no problem. The only difference now is that instead of ATF witnesses, we are now seeking to interview Justice Department witnesses.”

Grassley said that if Holder continues to refuse to comply with congressional requests for information and keeps blocking witnesses from appearing for transcribed interviews, he’s “confident” Issa will use his subpoena power to force his compliance from the House of Representatives.

Follow Matthew on Twitter

Documents: ATF used "Fast and Furious" to make the case for gun regulations

By Sharyl Attkisson

Documents obtained by CBS News show that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) discussed using their covert operation "Fast and Furious" to argue for controversial new rules about gun sales.

In Fast and Furious, ATF secretly encouraged gun dealers to sell to suspected traffickers for Mexican drug cartels to go after the "big fish." But ATF whistleblowers told CBS News and Congress it was a dangerous practice called "gunwalking," and it put thousands of weapons on the street. Many were used in violent crimes in Mexico. Two were found at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

ATF officials didn't intend to publicly disclose their own role in letting Mexican cartels obtain the weapons, but emails show they discussed using the sales, including sales encouraged by ATF, to justify a new gun regulation called "Demand Letter 3". That would require some U.S. gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or "long guns." Demand Letter 3 was so named because it would be the third ATF program demanding gun dealers report tracing information.

On July 14, 2010 after ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. received an update on Fast and Furious, ATF Field Ops Assistant Director Mark Chait emailed Bill Newell, ATF's Phoenix Special Agent in Charge of Fast and Furious:

"Bill - can you see if these guns were all purchased from the same (licensed gun dealer) and at one time. We are looking at anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long gun multiple sales. Thanks."

On Jan. 4, 2011, as ATF prepared a press conference to announce arrests in Fast and Furious, Newell saw it as "(A)nother time to address Multiple Sale on Long Guns issue." And a day after the press conference, Chait emailed Newell: "Bill--well done yesterday... (I)n light of our request for Demand letter 3, this case could be a strong supporting factor if we can determine how many multiple sales of long guns occurred during the course of this case."

This revelation angers gun rights advocates. Larry Keane, a spokesman for National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group, calls the discussion of Fast and Furious to argue for Demand Letter 3 "disappointing and ironic." Keane says it's "deeply troubling" if sales made by gun dealers "voluntarily cooperating with ATF's flawed 'Operation Fast & Furious' were going to be used by some individuals within ATF to justify imposing a multiple sales reporting requirement for rifles."

The Gun Dealers' Quandary
Several gun dealers who cooperated with ATF told CBS News and Congressional investigators they only went through with suspicious sales because ATF asked them to.

Sometimes it was against the gun dealer's own best judgment.

In April, 2010 a licensed gun dealer cooperating with ATF was increasingly concerned about selling so many guns. "We just want to make sure we are cooperating with ATF and that we are not viewed as selling to the bad guys," writes the gun dealer to ATF Phoenix officials, "(W)e were hoping to put together something like a letter of understanding to alleviate concerns of some type of recourse against us down the road for selling these items."

ATF's group supervisor on Fast and Furious David Voth assures the gun dealer there's nothing to worry about. "We (ATF) are continually monitoring these suspects using a variety of investigative techniques which I cannot go into detail."

Two months later, the same gun dealer grew more agitated.

"I wanted to make sure that none of the firearms that were sold per our conversation with you and various ATF agents could or would ever end up south of the border or in the hands of the bad guys. I guess I am looking for a bit of reassurance that the guns are not getting south or in the wrong hands...I want to help ATF with its investigation but not at the risk of agents (sic) safety because I have some very close friends that are US Border Patrol agents in southern AZ as well as my concern for all the agents (sic) safety that protect our country."

"It's like ATF created or added to the problem so they could be the solution to it and pat themselves on the back," says one law enforcement source familiar with the facts. "It's a circular way of thinking."

The Justice Department and ATF declined to comment. ATF officials mentioned in this report did not respond to requests from CBS News to speak with them.

The "Demand Letter 3" Debate
The two sides in the gun debate have long clashed over whether gun dealers should have to report multiple rifle sales. On one side, ATF officials argue that a large number of semi-automatic, high-caliber rifles from the U.S. are being used by violent cartels in Mexico. They believe more reporting requirements would help ATF crack down. On the other side, gun rights advocates say that's unconstitutional, and would not make a difference in Mexican cartel crimes.

Two earlier Demand Letters were initiated in 2000 and affected a relatively small number of gun shops.

Demand Letter 3 was to be much more sweeping, affecting 8,500 firearms dealers in four southwest border states: Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. ATF chose those states because they "have a significant number of crime guns traced back to them from Mexico." The reporting requirements were to apply if a gun dealer sells two or more long guns to a single person within five business days, and only if the guns are semi-automatic, greater than .22 caliber and can be fitted with a detachable magazine.

On April 25, 2011, ATF announced plans to implement Demand Letter 3. The National Shooting Sports Foundation is suing the ATF to stop the new rules. It calls the regulation an illegal attempt to enforce a law Congress never passed. ATF counters that it has reasonably targeted guns used most often to "commit violent crimes in Mexico, especially by drug gangs."

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is investigating Fast and Furious, as well as the alleged use of the case to advance gun regulations. "There's plenty of evidence showing that this administration planned to use the tragedies of Fast and Furious as rationale to further their goals of a long gun reporting requirement. But, we've learned from our investigation that reporting multiple long gun sales would do nothing to stop the flow of firearms to known straw purchasers because many Federal Firearms Dealers are already voluntarily reporting suspicious transactions. It's pretty clear that the problem isn't lack of burdensome reporting requirements."

On July 12, 2011, Sen. Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) wrote Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department oversees ATF. They asked Holder whether officials in his agency discussed how "Fast and Furious could be used to justify additional regulatory authorities." So far, they have not received a response. CBS News asked the Justice Department for comment and context on ATF emails about Fast and Furious and Demand Letter 3, but officials declined to speak with us.

"In light of the evidence, the Justice Department's refusal to answer questions about the role Operation Fast and Furious was supposed to play in advancing new firearms regulations is simply unacceptable," Rep. Issa told CBS News.

Sharyl Attkisson
Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington. All of her stories, videos and blogs are available here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Facts are STUBBORN Things...The Justice Department Tries to Have it Both Ways

Setting the Record Straight on Operation Fast and Furious

 “Facts are STUBBORN Things”
“…and whatever our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” - John Adams, December 1770

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing with Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer Questions for the Record received December 2, 2011 and letter from Attorney General Eric Holder, October 7, 2011

The February 4th Response - The Justice Department can’t have it both ways

•    Attorney General Holder letter to Senator Grassley, Congressman Issa, October 7, 2011: “Senator Grassley has suggested that I was aware of Operation Fast and Furious from letters he provided to me on or about January 31, 2011 that were addressed to the former Acting Director of ATF.  However, those letters referred only to an ATF umbrella initiative on the Southwest Border that started under the prior Administration -- Project Gunrunner -- and not to Operation Fast and Furious.”

•    Senator Grassley: “Did your Deputy Assistant Attorney General (DAAG) Jason Weinstein review the Department’s February 4, 2011 letter to me?”

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, December 2, 2011: “Yes, DAAG Weinstein reviewed the letter; he also participated in its drafting.”

“Based on the documents being produced by the Justice Department, I understand that two emails attaching drafts of the letter were sent to me by DAAG Weinstein on February 2, while I was in Mexico (February 1-3), and that I forwarded one of those emails to my personal email account on that day; I also understand that on February 4, after I had returned from Mexico, I received two emails attaching signed versions of the letter, including the final version, and that on February 5, I forwarded both emails to my personal email account. However, as I testified, I cannot say for sure whether I saw a draft of the letter before it was sent to you.”

The letter which Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein participated in drafting, and which Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer was sent drafts of, stated: “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”  Weinstein knew this was clearly false because he knew about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver, which he brought to Breuer’s attention in April 2010.  Had Breuer read this letter (he is unclear if he read it), he would have known this sentence was false as well.

Like Senator Grassley’s January 27 letter, the Justice Department’s February 4 letter applied to all of Project Gunrunner, of which both Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious were a part.  The Attorney General can’t simultaneously claim that Senator Grassley’s January 27 letter was too broad for him to be aware that Grassley was talking about of Fast and Furious but that their response was so narrow as to only apply to Fast and Furious, which is never specifically named in the Justice Department’s February 4 letter.

Documents supporting the FACTS.

Why DIDN'T Holder and Napolitano Know about the Connection between Fast and Furious and Agent Terry's Murder?

 Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley

Why Didn’t the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security know about the Connections between Fast and Furious to Agent Terry’s Death?
Thursday, December 1, 2011

***Click here for video of Grassley’s speech.***

For nearly a year, I have been investigating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Operation Fast and Furious.

I have followed up on questions from that investigation as the Senate Judiciary Committee held oversight hearings over the past few weeks with both Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Each of them testified about the aftermath of the shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.  And I have sought to clarify with FACTS some of the half-truths that were said during those hearings.

Each claimed that they were ignorant of the connection between Agent Terry’s death and Operation Fast and Furious until my letters with whistleblower allegations brought the connection to light.

However, documents that have come to light in my investigation draw those claims into question.

I’d like to address a couple of those discrepancies.

Secretary Napolitano went to Arizona a few days after Agent Terry’s death.

She said that she met at that time with the FBI agents and the assistant U.S. attorneys looking for the shooters.

She also said that at that point in time, nobody knew about Fast and Furious.

Yet documents show that many people knew about Fast and Furious on December 15, the day Agent Terry died.

Secretary Napolitano referenced the FBI agents looking for the shooters.

The head of that FBI field division was present at the December 15 press conference about Agent Terry’s murder.  At that very press conference, the FBI head told a chief Assistant U.S. Attorney about the connection to an ongoing Phoenix ATF investigation.

That same night, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke confirmed that the guns tied back to Fast and Furious.

These connections were made days before Secretary Napolitano’s visit.

The very purpose of her visit was to find out more about the investigation.

That leaves a very important question.

The Department of Homeland Security oversees the Border Patrol.  Why wouldn’t the Phoenix FBI head have told Secretary Napolitano that the only guns found at the scene of Agent Terry’s murder were tied to an ongoing ATF investigation?

And let’s not forget the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Secretary Napolitano said she met with the assistant U.S. attorneys looking for the shooters. 
The chief assistant U.S. attorney for the Tucson office, which coordinated the Terry investigation, found out about the ATF connection directly from the FBI.

So, a very important question comes up.  Why would they conceal the Fast and Furious connection from Secretary Napolitano days later?

The Tucson office was overseen by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis Burke, who confirmed to Tucson that guns came from Operation Fast and Furious.

When Ms. Napolitano was Governor of Arizona, Mr. Burke served as her chief of staff for five years.  Secretary Napolitano acknowledges that she had conversations with him about the murder of Agent Terry.

So, a very important question comes up.  Why would Mr. Burke conceal the Fast and Furious connection from Secretary Napolitano?

Even before Secretary Napolitano came to Arizona, emails indicate Mr. Burke spoke on December 15 with Attorney General Holder’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Monty Wilkinson.

Before finding out about Agent Terry, Mr. Burke emailed Mr. Wilkinson that he wanted to “explain in detail” about Fast and Furious when they talked.

So, a very important question comes up.  On that phone call, did U.S. Attorney Burke tell Mr. Wilkinson about the case’s connection to a Border Patrol agent’s death that very day?

The next day, the Deputy Director of the ATF made sure briefing papers were prepared about the Fast and Furious connection to Agent Terry’s death.

He sent them to individuals here in Washington, D.C., in the Deputy Attorney General’s office at the Justice Department.

Within 24 hours, they were forwarded to the Deputy Attorney General.

They were accompanied by a personal email from one of the Deputy Attorney General’s deputies, explaining the situation. Two weeks later, that Deputy Attorney General, Gary Grindler, was named the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff.

Yet a month and a half after Agent Terry’s death, Attorney General Holder was allegedly ignorant of the Fast and Furious connection.

So, a very important question is unanswered.  Why wouldn’t Mr. Grindler bring up these serious problems with Attorney General Holder, either as his Deputy Attorney General or as his Chief of Staff?

It’s clear that multiple highly-placed officials in multiple agencies knew almost immediately of the connection between Operation Fast and Furious and Agent Terry’s death.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have failed to adequately explain why Attorney General Holder and Secretary Napolitano allegedly remained ignorant of that connection.  Whether it’s the Attorney General or the Secretary, or members of their staff, somebody wasn’t doing their job.

In the case of Secretary Napolitano, either she was not entirely candid with me and others, or this was a gross breach on the part of those who kept her in the dark.

The Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security lost a man.

It was their right to know the full circumstances surrounding that.

No one likes the unpleasant business of having to ’fess up, but the FBI, ATF, and U.S. Attorney’s Office owed it to Agent Brian Terry and his family to fully inform the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security.

This was the death of a federal agent involving weapons allowed to walk free by another agency in his own government.

Let me explain walking guns.  The federal government operates under the rule of law just like all of us have to live under that rule of law.  There are licensed federal gun dealers.  Federal gun dealers were encouraged to sell guns illegally to straw buyers and supposedly follow those guns across the border to somehow arrest people who were involved with drug trafficking and other illegal things.  And, two of these guns showed up at the murder scene of Agent Terry.

And, if that’s not serious enough to brief up to the top of the department, then I don’t know what is.

Friday Night Fast and Furious Document Dump by Justice Department

The following is a comment from Beth Levine, spokesperson for Ranking Member Grassley, on the Justice Department’s latest release of documents related to Senator Grassley and Congressman Issa’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.

“After a first glance at today’s document dump from the Justice Department, there appears to be even more questions for Assistant Attorney General Breuer, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein and former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.   The congressional investigators will continue to scour the documents over the upcoming days and will have further questions for department officials.

“In addition, the disparaging emails from Mr. Burke about Senator Grassley and his staff are disappointing from somebody who should have known much more about the gunwalking. Fortunately, it appears that Mr. Burke now realizes that the Senator and his staff have the best of intentions and work very hard to understand the facts of any investigation, including this one that involved a disastrous program where our own government illegally allowed guns to be walked and led to the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.  After learning yesterday from the Justice Department that the emails would be released, Mr. Burke personally apologized to Senator Grassley’s staff for the tone and the content of the emails.” 

Times Spikes Fast & Furious Hearing in Print, Omits Eric Holder's Admission Completely

By: Clay Waters

Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder was grilled by Republicans on Capitol Hill Tuesday about the Justice Department’s botched sting Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed guns to flow untracked into the U.S. and Mexico, putting thousands of illegally purchased firearms on the street, one of which led to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in the Arizona desert.

Republican questioners even forced Holder to admit his initial statements to Congress about his knowledge of the gun-walking were "inaccurate.” But the New York Times' print edition completely skipped it.

Reporter Charlie Savage’s story, “Holder Urges Lawmakers to Support Efforts to Stop Gun Trafficking,” apparently never even made it into print. And as that headline shows, the Times was in spin mode for the administration, emphasizing Holder’s wish “to move past the political furor” (though one couldn’t detect much furor in the paper’s previous sparse coverage) and completely omitting Holder's admission of "inaccuracy."

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday sought to move past the political furor over Operation Fast and Furious, the disputed Arizona gun trafficking investigation, to the wider problem of the flow of American firearms to Mexican drug cartels -- and what he portrayed as roadblocks members of Congress have thrown up to stemming that flow.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Holder criticized a recent vote by the House of Representatives to block a new regulation requiring firearms dealers along the Southwest border to report multiple sales of semiautomatic rifles. He also said lawmakers should increase financing for firearms investigation and strengthen “statutory tools” to stop the flow of guns to Mexico.
Savage paraphrased Republican questioning Holder on what he knew and when he knew it, but completely ignored the Attorney General's confession that he regretted being “inaccurate” in his previous statements about Fast and Furious. While Holder had said in a previous hearing that he had only heard about the program’s tactics “in the last few weeks,” on Tuesday he said he had actually learned about the program at the beginning of the year. But the Times ignored Holder’s confession.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the panel, rejected any need for additional measures. “This tragedy should not be used to call for new gun control,” he said. He also sought to keep the focus on Fast and Furious, grilling Mr. Holder about what and when he and other top officials had known about the tactics used in the program.

Fast and Furious was an investigation into a gun trafficking network, and was run by the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from late 2009 to early 2011. It was internally controversial because some A.T.F. agents believed they were not being allowed to move quickly enough to contact “straw buyers” and interdict guns because supervisors wanted to wait and identify kingpins.
By contrast, the Washington Post played it on page two Wednesday, leading with Holder taking back his previous congressional testimony regarding when he learned of the operation: “Holder amends remarks on gun sting – Attorney general heard of ‘Fast and Furious’ earlier than he first said.” More from Wednesday's Washington Post:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told Senate Republicans on Tuesday that the Justice Department provided “inaccurate” information to Congress on the “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking sting and said that his congressional testimony about when he learned of the controversial operation had been imprecise.

Holder said that a Feb. 4 letter to congressional investigators, in which the department denied allegations that agents had allowed guns to flow illegally onto U.S. streets and into Mexico, was wrong. He said Justice officials learned only some time after they sent the letter that the tactic, known as “gun walking,” had been extensively used in the Phoenix-based Fast and Furious.

“The information in that letter was inaccurate. That letter could have been better crafted,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Blaming the mistake on bad information supplied by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix, Holder said: “That’s something I regret.”

Under gentler questioning from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, Holder also acknowledged the imprecision of his May 3 testimony. At that hearing, he said he “probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

On Tuesday, Holder amended his recollection, saying that he had actually learned about the program at the beginning of this year. “I should probably have said a couple of months,” said Holder, who defended his overall handling of the controversy as “responsible” and made it clear that he has no plans to resign, as some Republicans have urged.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

White House Stonewalling on 'Fast and Furious'?

ustice Dept. Fast and Furious emails show disagreement over response to Grassley

By Sharyl Attkisson

(Credit: AP Photo)
More than 1,000 pages of frenzied email exchanges were fired back and forth among Justice Department officials, as they weighed how to respond to initial inquires about the gunwalker scandal. Today, the agency turned over those subpoenaed records to Congress in advance of a hearing next week with Attorney General Eric Holder.

PICTURES: ATF "Gunwalking" scandal timeline The emails are marked by intra-office disagreement over how vigorously to defend the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) amid questions from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. ATF whistleblowers had told Sen. Grassley that their own agency had let thousands of weapons "walk" into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. They also told Grassley that two of the weapons involved in the case, known as "Fast and Furious," were used at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

"Those [allegations] are the most salacious, and the most damaging to ATF, both short-and long-term," writes Deputy Asst. Attorney General Jason Weinstein to Justice Department Special Counsel Faith Burton on Feb. 2, 2011.

Weinstein also wrote ATF Acting Director Ken Melson, calling the gunwalking allegations "terribly damaging to ATF," and pushing for "a more forceful rebuttal" than what the Justice Department was considering.

Read the Internal Justice Department Emails Additional Justice Department Emails Special Counsel Burton disagreed, telling Weinstein: "Understand the concerns about pushing back on the Terry issue, but think presents significant risks and we should discuss that together in person if nec."

"What 'risk'?" U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke asked the Justice Department's Weinstein. Burke's office oversaw Fast and Furious.

"They're worried if we engage in a detailed discussion of this case with Grassley's staff, that they'll just keep pushing for more and more information. But I think we need to come down hard and firm and say that the allegation is BS," Weinstein tells Burke.

Emails indicate some Justice Department officials were concerned with making sure the facts provided to Congress were entirely accurate. One official with the Arizona U.S. Attorney's office asked whether defenses being proposed were "absolutely true." "Yes, absolutely true," answered another.

After the Justice Department's Weinstein led the internal charge to toughen ATF's defense, he received an email of appreciation from ATF's Congressional liaison Greg Rasnake, who has since left that position.

"Whether or not they buy in, you are the man for supporting us like that," writes Rasnake.

Eventually, the Justice Department sent Sen. Grassley a letter stating ATF would never intentionally allow guns to walk. The Justice Department now admits that assertion was false, and Congress has been asking who's to blame.

Justice Department officials have testified that in drafting the inaccurate response, they unknowingly relied on bad information provided to them by "others."

U.S. Attorney Burke also fired off emails after ATF refused to comment on initial newspaper reports about the gunwalker scandal. Emails indicate he was upset the allegations weren't being met with a more vigorous defense.

"(ATF) got smoked today in the Arizona Republic. Just smoked," Burke writes to Justice Department Criminal Chief Lanny Breuer on Feb. 1, 2011. "Just baffling that they refuse to engage even just to protect the integrity of the agency. Seriously, I would recommend a stern missive to them." The next day, referring to a Washington Post article, Burke tells Justice Department officials, "That ATF refused to comment to the Wash Post is truly absurd. Really. Grassley's letter is outrageous and false. That ATF didn't counter that is unbelievable."

Burke resigned six months later.

More Fast and Furious coverage:
Memos contradict Holder on Fast and Furious 
Agent: I was ordered to let guns "walk" into Mexico 
Gunwalking scandal uncovered at ATF


Fast & Furious Cover-up Grows Bigger

The Fast & Furious scandal pot may be reaching the boiling point.  Attorney General Eric Holder has maintained he knew nothing about the “gun walking” operation on the southern border that put thousands of high powered weapons into the hands of the Mexican gun cartel and led to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and increased the mayhem on both sides of the border. 

He would have us believe that the operation was simply a misguided adventure involving a couple of rouge officers behaving badly way out west.  Holder contends that even after Agent Terry’s murder in December, 2010, the subsequent extensive press coverage, and formal inquiries for information to DOJ by Members of Congress that Fast & Furious simply didn’t register high enough on priority meter to merit any attention from the Attorney General himself, and that F&F was a minor subplot at the Department of Justice.  (See previous articles here)

However, 1364 pages of documents just released to Congressional investigators tell a very different story.   It’s a story of “robust internal deliberations” at the highest levels of the Justice Department to craft denials and falsify the facts of the gun running operation leading up to a formal response sent to Senator Charles Grassley on February 4, 2011.  Based on the release of these new documents, the Justice Department has withdrawn the February 2011, and is now going through a tortured effort to cover their considerably messy tracks.

In a letter sent to Congress on Friday, December 2, 2012 Deputy Attorney General James Cole said, “Facts have come to light during the course of this investigation that indicate the February 4 letter contains inaccuracies.” That would be DOJ-speak for “we lied.”

“Department personnel…relied on information provided by supervisors from the components in the best position to know the relevant facts: ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona…Information provided by those supervisors was inaccurate. We understand that, in transcribed interviews with congressional investigators, the supervisors have said that they did not know at the time the letter was drafted that information they provided was inaccurate.”

According to a lengthy expose in, “A selection of documents the Justice Department released to reporters on Friday demonstrates that U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke, ATF Acting Director Ken Melson and ATF Deputy Director William Hoover vigorously urged the department to issue a forceful and broad denial of the allegations.”  

Burke, who was also a former chief-of-staff to Janet Napolitano, resigned in August.  Melson was “reassigned.” But, the head-rolling from this scandal is likely far from done.  Politico explains that the huge volume of newly released documents “shed little light on precisely where in the federal bureaucracy the erroneous denials originated and whether the misstatements were deliberate or the product of some confusion.”  Resolving those questions remains a major focus of the ongoing investigation. 

One of Holder’s key deputies, Lanny Breuer, must be particularly nervous over the newly released documents.  Breuer, who heads the Criminal Division at DOJ, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 1 that “I cannot say for sure whether I saw a draft of the letter that was sent to you.”  The “letter” referred to was the February 4, 2011 letter that DOJ now admits was “inaccurate.”  In written testimony sent to Senator Grassley, Breuer also said he had “no recollection” of seeing the letter before it was sent.

However, as the Friday dump of documents indicates, Breuer forwarded versions of the letter from his official email to his personal gmail account on three occasions: once before it was sent and twice after. 

Further, Breuer’s aid Jason Weinstein was deeply involved in the drafting and redrafting of the Feb. 4 letter.  On Feb. 2 expressing frustration and how difficult it was to satisfy all concerned, Weinstein sent an email to both Breuer and Burke, “The Magna Carta was easier to get done than this was.” In another email addressed to both Breuer and Weinstein as the final draft was near completion Burke wrote, “Great job by you.”  Breuer replied, “Thanks, Jason, as usual great work.” 

James Cole, the Deputy AG who drew the short straw and sent the letter to Congress Friday retracting the Feb. 4, 2011 Letter-of-Lies is going to have some explaining to do, as well.  The documents show that his chief deputy, Lisa Monaco, expressed serious reservations about the “categorically false” claims in the Feb. 4 letter that F&F guns were used to kill Agent Terry. 

“Obviously we want to be 300% sure we can make such ‘categorical’ statement” she warned, but apparently to no avail. 

To some degree, these new documents are just further confirmation of what was already known.  That the Fast and Furious operation, and most particularly the cover-up following Agent Terry’s assassination, involved some of the most highly placed officials at the Department of Justice.  While there has been no disclosure as of yet that the new 1364 pages implicate Eric Holder himself, we reaffirm our earlier conclusion that on May 3, 2011 the Attorney General perjured himself when he testified to Congress that he had only just learned of F&F “over the last few weeks.” 

Briefing memos from Holder’s closest aides including Lanny Breuer indicate Holder knew – or had an obligation to have known - of F&F as early as July, 2010, five months before Brian Terry was gunned down.   Holder’s top aides have now been implicated in a cover-up plot to deny Congress, the American people, and Agent Terry’s family from knowing the truth of an ill-conceived, shameful operation that extended to the highest levels of government.  And, yet, to date all Barack Obama has said of the scandal is, “I have complete confidence in Attorney General Holder.”  And, for the record, the “I was not aware” defense invoked by Holder and Breuer is also the defense of choice by the President, too.  Time will tell.

Justice Department sends Congress 1,400 pages on 'Fast and Furious'

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Department Producer

An intense struggle among several senior Justice Department officials was revealed Friday as internal documents on the gun-running Operation Fast and Furious were released by the department.

About 1,400 pages that had been demanded by Capitol Hill investigators were sent to three key congressional committees in advance of what is expected to be a contentious hearing next Thursday when Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on the subject.

The documents lift the veil on conflicting views among Justice Department executives, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Arizona U.S. attorney's office over whether and how to respond to allegations made in letters from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Grassley had demanded to know whether, as whistle-blowers claimed, the ATF was allowing firearms bought by suspected straw purchasers in Arizona to "walk" across the border into Mexico, and into the arms of drug cartels. Grassley had alleged the ATF's surveillance operation lost track of weapons and two of them ended up at the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered last December.

In early February 2011, as the issue was heating up, the documents show Justice officials struggled for days over how to respond to Grassley. Repeated drafts were required as the issue rose for discussion among the deputy attorney general's staff. At the last moment, Justice officials halted sending out letters to Grassley because of uncertainty over the facts of Fast and Furious, and over how forcefully to respond.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich was especially concerned about protecting the Justice Department position that details about ongoing investigations not be revealed. Other officials, notably in the deputy attorney general's office, said it was crucial in this unusual and important situation to be candid and forthright to a key U.S. senator.

Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, defended the operation, and appears to have become exasperated at the Justice Department's cautious response.

"Every version gets weaker. We will be apologizing to (Grassley) by tomorrow afternoon," he wrote.
Burke and ATF headquarters officials insisted the charge that agents "allowed the sale of weapons which were transported into Mexico is false." He also insisted the "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally."


Video: Issa explains Why He’s Not Calling for Resignations Over ‘Fast and Furious’

The Hill Reports: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Friday that unlike some other Republican lawmakers, he’s not calling for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder in the wake of a botched weapons sting.

“The fact is it’s not about any one person … it’s about a failure that seems to be pervasive within Justice. That investigations play fast and loose with the expectations that of what is right or wrong when it comes to, I’m going to use the word, collateral damage,” said Issa at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor Friday.
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has been leading an investigation for the past nine months into “Fast and Furious,” the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s (ATF) botched gun-tracking operation that might have contributed to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Justice Department Reveals Origins of False Gun Letter To Grassley

The Justice Department released documents today detailing how officials prepared a Feb. 4 letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that Attorney General Eric Holder has since admitted contained false information about Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun operation under investigation by Congress.

The documents show that Dennis Burke, then a U.S. attorney who has since resigned, and William Hoover, then the deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who has since been reassigned, principally provided the false information to officials who drafted the letter. But the documents do not shed light on whether either knew the information was false at the time.

In the Feb. 4 letter, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich broadly denied that ATF officials had allowed assault weapons to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels, allowing the guns to escape into the wild. “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico,” Weich wrote.

Grassley’s allegations about Fast and Furious, later revealed to be true, “are based on categorical falsehoods,” Burke wrote in a Jan. 31 email. Faith Burton, a Justice Department official who drafted an early version of the letter, took notes based on a phone conversation with Hoover that read, “ATF doesn’t let guns walk.”

Emails show Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division, received versions of the letter on four occasions via email. Breuer forwarded the emails to a personal account but told Congressional investigators in a written statement today he “cannot say for sure” whether he viewed the drafts.

Breuer conceded Oct. 31 he knew federal officials allowed assault guns and other weapons to fall into the possession of Mexican drug cartels as early as April 2010, 10 months before the department denied in the letter to Grassley that the investigative strategy was used.

“Any instance of so-called gunwalking was unacceptable. This tactic was unfortunately used as part of Fast and Furious,” Holder admitted to Senators at a Judiciary Committee hearing Nov. 8. “This should never have happened.”

Breuer’s knowledge of the tactic was about Operation Wide Receiver, a similar, smaller-scale weapons-smuggling investigation that began during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Breuer said in October it was a “mistake” not to alert higher-ranking officials when the information about gunwalking in Fast and Furious “became public,” given his knowledge about Wide Receiver.

The documents released today show tangential involvement by Breuer in preparing the Feb. 4 letter.

“Let me know what’s happening with this,” he wrote in a Feb. 1 email asking for an update.

Jason Weinstein, Breuer’s deputy, responded by saying he had revised the initial draft, written by Burton, to “make it a little tougher.”

The documents show Weinstein was intimately involved in drafting the letter, urging repeated changes to strengthen the tone of its denial over objections from the Office of Legislative Affairs headed by Weich.

Weinstein was also far more familiar than Breuer with the details of Operation Wide Receiver, according to documents released in October. For instance, Weinstein told colleagues in an April 12, 2010, email that the ATF should be “embarrassed that they let this many guns walk” in Wide Receiver.

According to Breuer, Weinstein is now also expressing regret about not connecting the dots between Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious.

“Weinstein has expressed to me that, in hindsight, he wishes he had not relied on those assertions and that, because he did rely so heavily on them, he viewed, incorrectly, the misguided tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver — which resulted in the ATF losing control of guns that then crossed the border into Mexico — as having no relation to the allegations that were being made about Operation Fast and Furious,” Breuer said today in a written statement to Congressional investigators.

The day before the letter was sent to Grassley, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General raised concerns about the scope of the denial it contained.

“In the 2nd full para[graph] — we say ‘categorically false’ — obviously we want to be 300% sure we can make such a ‘categorical’ statement,” Lisa Monaco wrote in an email after reviewing a draft version of the letter. “I’ve developed an aversion to adjectives and oversight letters,” she explained in a later email.
The language was ultimately removed.

Over the course of the letter being prepared, Burke vehemently argued the department should more vigorously deny the allegations.

“What is so offensive about this whole project is that Grassley’s staff, acting as willing stooges for the Gun Lobby, have attempted to distract from the incredible success in dismantling [southwest border] gun trafficking operations ... but, instead, lobbing this reckless despicable accusation that ATF is complicit in the murder of a fellow federal law enforcement officer,” he wrote in a Feb. 4 email.

“Well said Dennis. Thank you!” Hoover replied.

However, guns found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder were eventually connected to the Fast and Furious operation.

A spokeswoman for Grassley said, "After a first glance at today's document dump from the Justice Department, there appears to be even more questions for Assistant Attorney General Breuer, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein and former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke."