During a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder argued that an alleged email between high ranking Justice Department officials referencing the failed gun-running operation Fast and Furious was inaccurate and cited his “superior knowledge” to make his case.
In one of the most revealing moments of testimony, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) pointed to an email written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein to James Trusty, chief of DOJ’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, and pressed Holder to address the correspondence.
“You claim with passion that nobody at the senior levels at the Department of Justice prior to the death of Brian Terry knew that guns were walking, and I’ve got an email from Jason Weinstein using the term ‘guns walking,’” Chaffetz said.
“That refers to Wide Receiver, not Fast and Furious,” Holder replied.
Operations Wide Receiver, Medrano and Hernandez are all gun-walking initiatives carried out under former President George W. Bush. Holder referenced these cases multiple times throughout his testimony.
“That is not what the February 4 letter that was sent to the United States Congress said,” said Chaffetz. “That’s not true.”
But Holder didn’t relent and went on to say the letter was determined to be inaccurate and repeated that the email referred only to Wide Receiver. So Chaffetz read the emails verbatim to Holder and Committee members. You can read all of their conversation here and decide whether Weinstein and Trusty were talking about operation Fast and Furious when they reference “Fast and Furious.”
“The email says Fast and Furious, you say it doesn’t. I’ve got it in black and white,” Chaffetz said.
Holder shortly later asserted, “I have superior knowledge.”
You can watch Chaffetz dress down Holder here:
This came not long after a tense confrontation between Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Holder as lawmakers attempted to keep the heat on Holder and his administration.
Issa said the Department of Justice has not produced a “shred of paper” concerning documents requested about Fast and Furious since May 18, despite his claim that he is working with Congress. Issa also accused Holder’s department of withholding certain documents requested under subpoena.
Issa explained that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had obtained six Fast and Furious wiretap applications, which he informed Holder of in a letter Tuesday. The documents indicate that senior Justice Department officials were made aware of the intimate details of Fast and Furious, seemingly disputing Holder’s previous statements.
Issa reiterated that point during the hearing and produced stacks of the wiretap applications, which he said were provided by “furious whistleblowers” who were tired of Justice Department stonewalling.
When asked if he has read the documents, Holder replied, “I have read them and I disagree with the conclusion you’ve just reached.”
Issa pressed Holder to answer who would be responsible for the wiretap applications, many of which were circulated before Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was gunned down.
“You’ve really conflated a bunch of things here,” Holder answered. “The responsibility about what you speak is in fact the responsibility of a deputy assistant attorney general looking at those summaries to make sure there is a basis to go into court.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said that it is inappropriate to refer to sealed court documents and repeatedly tried to prevent discussion about the wiretap applications.
Take a look at the entire interaction between Issa and Holder here:
Holder also told members of the House Judiciary Committee that he does not know when the Obama administration was first made aware of the “tactics” used in Fast and Furious, adding yet another important detail that the attorney general claims he has either forgotten or was not briefed on.
Holder said he didn’t remember talking to any White House officials about the failed program but someone within the Department of Justice probably contacted the “appropriate people.” Who those people are, he couldn’t say.
“No one knew about the tactics,” he said. “It wasn’t until the tactics were discovered that we started to understand we had a problem.”
Holder reiterated his previous statement that he was first made aware of the details of Fast and Furious sometime in February 2011, nearly three months after Terry was killed by one of the guns from the operation. He is standing by his claim that it was a regional operation carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Arizona and he was kept in the dark for the majority of its execution.
Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) asked Holder who was the highest level official in the Department of Justice that knew about the specific gun-walking tactics being used before he was informed about Fast and Furious.
Holder refused to answer the question as he was once again “uncertain” and would only repeat his previous statement that the operation “began in the field offices in Arizona.”
Further, Holder was able to skirt many of the questions and even place blame on the Bush administration for the tactics used in Fast and Furious.
“Although these law enforcement operations – which include Wide Receiver, Medrano, Hernandez, Fast and Furious, and others – were focused on the laudable goal of dismantling illegal gun trafficking networks, they were flawed in both concept and execution,” Holder said in his opening statements. “I share your concerns about how these operations were developed and implemented. That’s why – just as Congressional leaders have called for answers – I asked the Department’s Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive investigation as well.”