Issa subpoenas Justice Department, Holder for Fast and Furious documents

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday for documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, contends Holder knew more about the botched operation than he has told Congress. His subpoenas are directed to Holder and other senior officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

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“Top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Holder, know more about Operation Fast and Furious than they have publicly acknowledged,” Issa said in a statement announcing the subpoenas. 

“The documents this subpoena demands will provide answers to questions that Justice officials have tried to avoid since this investigation began eight months ago. It’s time we know the whole truth.” 

The 22-item subpoena seeks documents and communication records between Holder, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona, Executive Office of the President employees — including the White House’s associate communications director, Eric Schultz — and nearly 20 other high-ranking officials within the DOJ. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on Issa’s committee, called the subpoena a “political stunt.”

“This subpoena is a deep-sea fishing expedition and a gross abuse of the committee’s authority,” Cummings said in a statement. “It demands tens of thousands of pages of highly sensitive law enforcement and national security materials that have never been requested before and are completely unrelated to Operation Fast and Furious.”

Under Operation Fast and Furious, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) oversaw the sale of thousands of firearms to known or suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels in the hope of dismantling their gun trafficking routes. But the guns weren’t given proper supervision and most of them disappeared. Two of the guns sold under the operation were found at Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder scene in Arizona last year. 

Recently released internal Justice Department memos show Holder was notified about Operation Fast and Furious as early as last year, but the DOJ and the White House have said Holder didn’t learn about the operation’s controversial gun “walking” tactics until earlier this year when he requested an internal inspector general (IG) investigation. 

Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have said DOJ is “stonewalling” their efforts by not delivering the documents they’ve requested. 

In a recent letter to Holder, Issa said the DOJ has used a “roving set of ever-changing explanations to justify its involvement in this reckless and deadly program.” Issa also said that the delaying tactics have been used “to circle the wagons around DOJ and its political appointees.” 

The DOJ has said that it doesn’t want to jeopardize its prosecutions of straw buyers being tried with evidence gathered from Fast and Furious. As a result, the department has declined to turn over some documents but instead has offered them for in-camera review. 

At a press conference on Tuesday announcing the DOJ’s disruption of an alleged assassination plot, Holder said that the agency had complied with Issa’s requests for documents in the past and planned to turn over any requested material in the future. 

“We have sent thousands of pages of documents up to the Hill,” said Holder. “We’ll look at the subpoenas. I’m sure we will undoubtedly comply with them. But what I want the American people to understand is that in complying with those subpoenas and dealing with that inquiry, that will not detract us from the important business that we are here to do at the Justice Department, including matters like the one that we have announced today.” 

The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers (Mich.), said he didn’t think the timing of the alleged bomb-plot disruption was meant to detract attention from the Fast and Furious issue.

“The timing of this was designed around the case itself, I can clearly tell you that,” Rogers said Tuesday night on Fox News. “The arrest of the individual started the clock ticking for arraignment. And so, what you saw today was a result of our judicial clock, not necessarily a political clock.”

Holder and Republican lawmakers have repeatedly clashed in recent weeks. Several members have called for him to resign, while the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is pushing for an independent counsel to investigate the attorney general.

On Wednesday, Judicial Watch announced it had filed a lawsuit against DOJ and ATF, which oversaw the botched gun tracking operation — to obtain documents and communication records between the ATF’s former acting director, Kenneth Melson, and DOJ officials regarding Fast and Furious. 

Melson was removed as head of the ATF in August. 

“Given their dissembling, Justice and ATF are apparently in cover-up mode,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “We think it is important that an independent investigation of this scandal take place, and our lawsuits are a good way to do it.” 

Issa has issued a number of subpoenas since taking over as chairman of Oversight after Republicans won back the House in 2010. 

He issued his first, more narrow, subpoena to the DOJ for documents and communications dealing with the Fast and Furious case in March. 

In February, Issa issued his first subpoena of documents relating to Bank of America’s VIP mortgage program through the Countrywide Financial Corp., in an attempt to determine whether members of Congress received preferential treatment from the bank in return for their legislative support. 

In March, he issued a subpoena for documents pertaining to the then-general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) relationship and financial dealings with Bernie Madoff. 

In August, he subpoenaed the National Labor Relations Board for documents relating to its case against Boeing. 

— This story was posted at 10:40 a.m. and updated at 4:10 p.m. and at 7:55 p.m.