The chairman of a House committee that recommended a contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in the Fast and Furious gunrunning probe says there is no evidence so far that White House officials were involved in misleading Congress or engaged in a cover-up.
And Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he hopes the investigation “stays at Justice” and the department decides to hand over hundreds of documents it has withheld despite a committee subpoena.
President Obama injected the White House into the Fast and Furious debate last week when he asserted executive privilege over documents still being sought by the committee, and the question of whether Mr. Holder will be held in contempt now rests with the full House, which is expected to take up the matter this week.
Last week, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Mr. Obama’s action was an “admission” that “White House officials were involved in the decision that misled Congress and covered up the truth” about Fast and Furious, during which more than 2,000 weapons — including AK-47 semi-automatic rifles were walked to drug smugglers in Mexico.
The chairman, however, isn’t backing down on his claim that the Obama administration may have intentionally flooded the Mexican market with Fast and Furious guns to drum up support for gun control. He said emails obtained from the administration show officials knew the incident could help them build a case for banning assault weapons although it’s unclear whether that motivated them or just realized it after the fact.
“Chicken or egg, we don’t know which came first, and we probably never will,” Mr. Issa said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The people involved saw the benefit of what they were gathering. Whether that was their original purposes, we’ll probably never know.”
Mr. Issa also said on “Fox News Sunday”that he called the mother of slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry on Saturday night to tell her he’ll keep digging for the truth about Fast and Furious. Two weapons found at the scene of the fatal December 2010 shootout with Mexican bandits were purchased by Fast and Furious straw buyers.
“I told her that in fact we’re going to continue, regardless of what the vote is this week,” Mr. Issa said. “We have an obligation to get to the bottom of Fast and Furious.”
The investigation into the gunrunning operation kicked into high-gear after the Terry death, when Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, first challenged the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-led program. Several ATF field agents told Mr. Grassley they had serious concerns about weapons being walked into Mexico.
Fast and Furious began in September 2009 with the intent of tracking weapons purchased in gun shops in the Phoenix area to drug cartels in Mexico, but ATF agents lost track of the weapons.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder have both denied knowing about Fast and Furious when it began, but have on numerous occasions likened it to a similar program tried during the administration of President George W. Bush known as “Wide Receiver.”
Wide Receiver began in 2006 and ended in 2007. ATF agents, under what was described as “controlled delivery,” allowed the sale and transfer of weapons with assurances from Mexican officials they would be monitored and interdicted in Mexico. When many of the weapons were lost after they crossed the border despite being equipped with miniature GPS devices, the operation was shut down.
As a committee chairman, Mr. Issa initiated an investigation into Fast and Furious and a number of hearings on the program. He predicted a “bipartisan” vote in the House this week to hold Mr. Holder in contempt for withholding documents he said could shed light on who was involved from Justice and the White House.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he is holding out hope Mr. Boehner will meet with Mr. Holder to work out an agreement, rendering unnecessary the contempt vote set for this week.
“I think we have a duty to the American public to get those documents,” Mr. Cummings said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I know we can get them.It’s just a matter of sitting down.”
Mr. Cummings said the Justice Department has turned over 7,600 pages of Fast and Furious documents, 1,300 pages of internal deliberative documents and made two dozen department officials available for testimony and interviews before the committee. He also said Mr. Holder testified nine times before Congress on this issue.
Mr. Issa blamed Mr. Holder for the failure of negotiations over the documents last week after the two met face-to-face and the attorney general refused to deliver any of the requested records: “We only broke off negotiations when we got a flat refusal to get the documents we need to continue the investigation.”