The ongoing tug-of-war between Attorney General Eric Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa (R- Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, climaxed on Thursday with a historic vote in which Congress held the attorney general in both civil and criminal contempt over his refusal to provide subpoenaed "Fast and Furious" documents.
And now less than 24-hours following the vote, it is being reported that Issa has seemingly dealt another devastating blow to the Justice Department. Roll Call reports that in a very sly move: the chairman has inserted a May 24 letter he wrote to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), in which he quotes from and explains in detail some of the content found in secret wiretap applications from the failed federal gun-walking operation, into the Congressional Record.
Issa argues the wiretap applications are extremely detailed in identifying some of the tactics employed in Fast and Furious, which Holder and the senior DOJ officials still argue they were completely unaware of even though senior Justice Department officials signed off on the applications.
Holder has repeatedly said the wiretap applications are sealed court documents, which is why Issa has been unable to simply release the documents to the public. Issa himself said he got his copies from a group of "furious whistleblowers." Holder and the DOJ have refused to comment on the applications, therefore details have remained extremely fuzzy.
In other words, because he couldn't release the wiretap applications outright, he released a letter describing them. And he made that letter part of the official record while using Congress' protection under the speech and debate clause to avoid legal ramifications.
Roll Call has the latest developments in the Fast and Furious saga:
In the midst of a fiery floor debate over contempt proceedings for Attorney General Eric Holder, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) quietly dropped a bombshell letter into the Congressional Record.
The May 24 letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member on the panel, quotes from and describes in detail a secret wiretap application that has become a point of debate in the GOP’s “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe.
The wiretap applications are under court seal, and releasing such information to the public would ordinarily be illegal. But Issa appears to be protected by the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution, which offers immunity for Congressional speech, especially on a chamber’s floor.
According to the letter, the wiretap applications contained a startling amount of detail about the operation, which would have tipped off anyone who read them closely about what tactics were being used.
Holder and Cummings have both maintained that the wiretap applications did not contain such details and that the applications were reviewed narrowly for probable cause, not for whether any investigatory tactics contained followed Justice Department policy.
The wiretap applications were signed by senior DOJ officials in the department’s criminal division, including Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco and another official who is now deceased.
While Issa has since said he has obtained a number of wiretap applications, the letter only refers to one, from March 15, 2010. The full application is not included in what Issa entered into the Congressional Record, and names are obscured in Issa’s letter.
In the application, ATF agents included transcripts from a wiretap intercept from a previous Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that demonstrated the suspects were part of a gun-smuggling ring.
The wiretap applications also reportedly explain how ATF officials watched firearms purchased by suspected straw purchasers walk and ended their surveillance without intercepting the guns, according to Issa's letter. In at least one instance, the guns were recovered at a police stop at the U.S.-Mexico border the next day, Roll Call reports.
“Although ATF was aware of these facts, no one was arrested, and ATF failed to even approach the straw purchasers. Upon learning these details through its review of this wiretap affidavit, senior Justice Department officials had a duty to stop this operation. Further, failure to do so was a violation of Justice Department policy,” the letter reads.
In a June 5 letter, Cummings responded to Issa's May 24 letter and argued that Issa “omits the critical fact that [redacted].” Roll Call reports the entire first section of his letter is also blacked out.
"Sadly, it looks like Mr. Issa is continuing his string of desperate and unsubstantiated claims, while hiding key information from the very same documents," a Democratic committee staffer told Roll Call. "His actions demonstrate a lack of concern for the facts, as well as a reckless disregard for our nation’s courts and federal prosecutors who are trying to bring criminals to justice. We’re not going to stoop to his level. Obviously, we are going to honor the court’s seal and the prosecutors’ requests. But if Mr. Issa won’t tell you what he is hiding from the wiretaps, you should ask him why."
Some of the important highlights from Issa's letter:
- The financial details of four suspected straw purchases showed they had made $373,000 in gun purchases in cash but had nearly no reportable income from past year.
- The applications detailed how many guns specific suspects had bought from straw purchasers
- Wiretap Applications reveal ATF agents did not interdict guns when possible.
- “Although ATF was aware of these facts, no one was arrested, and ATF failed to even approach the straw purchasers."
- The wiretap applications were signed by senior DOJ officials
- Holder has refused to address the documents.