Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Wednesday defended not signing a letter to President Obama that urged him to comply with requests for documents on a controversial gun-tracking program.
The letter, sent by 31 Democrats last Friday, called attention to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Gunrunner project, and specifically Operation "Fast and Furious", which approved the sale of thousands of semi-automatic rifles to suspected and known straw purchasers for drug cartels.
At least one of the guns sold in the operation was found at the scene of a gun battle that killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona last December.
But a Democratic aide with Cummings said that the Justice Department (DOJ) had recently been cooperating very well with Issa’s subpoena for documents relating to the gun-tracking operation.
“It’s not consistent with what we’ve been experiencing with DOJ,” the aide said. “As of late they’ve been cooperating and showing us documents and pulling together documents in response to the subpoena, so I can’t imagine that given what we know about the investigation that we would have signed a letter saying that DOJ was not cooperating.”
An aide to Cummings said that none of the 31 Democrats let him know that they were planning to send the letter to Obama and that he was not asked to sign on to it.
The “Fast and Furious” operation was a younger offshoot of the five-year-old Gunrunner program. Officials hoped to trace the firearms sold to straw purchasers under the watchful eye of the operation to the upper ranks of the drug cartels and prosecute them. But ATF whistleblowers allege that officials lost track of some of the guns.
Earlier this year, Issa subpoenaed the DOJ for documents relating to the operation. The day before Holder was set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, the DOJ delivered 92 pages worth of publicly available documents and told the committee that about 400 pages of other documents would be made available for the committee staff’s in-camera review, but could not be handed over to the committee because of their sensitivity.
There is still a large cache of requested documents that the DOJ has not produced for the committee.
Republican and Democratic aides with the committee have told The Hill that the DOJ appears to be actively trying to fulfill the request and has been working to keep the committee abreast of its progress, which has been slowed by technological difficulties within the agency.
Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Fast and Furious operation was first brought to his attention sometime around April. He quickly launched an Inspector General (IG) investigation into the matter earlier this year, and has deferred many of the questions about the operation until that probe is complete.
Next Monday the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Obstruction of Justice: Does the Justice Department Have to Respond to Lawfully Issued and Valid Congressional Subpoena?"
Updated at 6:26 p.m.