Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday offered to meet personally with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to discuss the possibility of giving Congress long-sought information about a failed federal gun-tracking operation.
Holder’s offer came amid highly charged exchanges between the attorney general and GOP lawmakers during a four-hour hearing in the House, with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) going so far as to tell Holder that he was not a “good witness.”
“There are absolutely no conversations going on,” Boehner told reporters.
For 15 months Issa has been investigating the role that senior-level DOJ officials might have had in approving the controversial “gun-walking” tactics in Fast and Furious, which authorized the sale of nearly 2,000 firearms to straw buyers in the Southwest for Mexican drug cartels.
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has issued several subpoenas to the DOJ for thousands of pages of documents.
But after handing over 7,600 documents, Issa says the DOJ has stopped producing information. Issa says Holder is impeding Congress’s duty to oversee the executive branch. Issa has drafted a resolution that would place the attorney general in contempt of Congress.
Boehner and Issa — along with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — sent a letter to Holder nearly three weeks ago asking him to answer two remaining questions about Fast and Furious: who in the department knew about the tactics used in the operation before December 2010 and whether the DOJ lied to Congress about it.
In response to questions from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) at Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Holder said he was willing to sit down with Republican leaders, including Issa, to try and resolve the epic dispute.
“I am willing to personally engage with the four people who signed that letter and try to come to an accommodation so that we can get you the information that you need, consistent with what I think is our need to protect ongoing investigations. I want to be as flexible as I can and, as you said, get to the end,” Holder said.
But Holder rejected Chaffetz’s request to have the attorney general meet with him, fellow Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) and Democratic Reps. Robert “Bobby” Scott (Va.) and Mike Quigley (Ill.) for four hours to discuss Fast and Furious.
“With all due respect, I gave you four hours at a crack on eight separate occasions,” said Holder, citing his eight appearances on Capitol Hill so far this Congress.
“I’m not sure there’s an awful lot more I have to say.”
That exchange was mild compared to Issa’s grilling of Holder, which was filled with interruptions and outbursts from the powerful Republican and from Democratic members attempting to come to the attorney general’s aid.
“I want to ask you, first of all, today, have you and your attorneys produced internally the materials responsive to the subpoenas?” asked Issa.
Holder began to respond, “We believe that we have responded to the subpoenas” when Issa interrupted him.
“No, Mr. Attorney General, you’re not a good witness,” he told Holder. “A good witness answers the question asked. So let’s go back again.”
Holder explained that the DOJ has “processed millions of electronic and viewed over 140,000 documents and produced to you about 7,600.”
Issa wasn’t having it.
“Look, I don’t want to hear about the 7,600,” he said.
Most of the questions by Republicans on Fast and Furious focused on a series of six wiretap applications that Issa recently obtained from “a furious group of whistleblowers.”
The documents haven’t been released publicly and are under a federal court seal because they’re part of the DOJ’s ongoing prosecution of people detained during the operation; the DOJ has suggested the documents were provided to Issa illegally.
Issa argues that the details in the documents describe the specifics of the “gun-walking” tactics, which senior DOJ officials have long denied knowing about prior to early 2011. Issa points to the authorizing signatures of three high-ranking DOJ officials on the documents as proof that the agency has been lying to Congress.
Holder disputed these claims on Thursday, saying the senior-level officials who signed the documents only read summaries prepared by lower-level attorneys.
Moreover, Holder said he reviewed the applications themselves as well as the summaries and found nothing to support Issa’s allegations.
“I’ve looked at these affidavits, I’ve looked at these summaries, there’s nothing in those affidavits — as I’ve reviewed them — that indicates that ‘gun-walking’ was allowed,” Holder said.
“And so I didn’t see anything in there that would put on notice a person who was reviewing, either at the line level or at the deputy assistant attorney general level [and] would have knowledge of the fact that these inappropriate tactics were being used,” Holder said.
This story was posted at 3:38 p.m. and updated at 7:15 p.m.