GOP steps up pressure on Obama with Fast and Furious investigation

Top ranking Republicans are increasing pressure on the Obama administration over a botched gun tracking operation, as the White House falls under tight scrutiny in two other separate investigations.

House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday, stressing that the congressional investigation into the Fast and Furious operation would not slow down or cease because of two recent departures of high-ranking officials within the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

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“The department cannot...pin this scandal on a few individuals and expect it to be forgotten,” said Smith in his letter. “Fast and Furious was a result of systematic problems at the ATF.”

Congressional interest will continue until we fully understand who authorized the failed program and how a federal agency could allow such decision-making to occur.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also wrote to the DOJ’s acting inspector general (IG) this week, blasting the office for sending secret audio recordings of a special agent involved in the operation to the agent himself.

The lawmakers contend that the move cost them the upper hand and that it has compromised the IG’s investigation into the Fast and Furious operation, which is being conducted simultaneously to Issa’s.

“Each of these disclosures undermines our ability to assess the candor of witnesses in our investigation and thus obstructs it,” wrote Grassley and Issa.

“Moreover, your decision to immediately disclose the recordings to those you are investigating creates at least the appearance, if not more, that your inquiry is not sufficiently objective and independent.”

Soon after the letter was sent, Issa hit the airwaves, doing numerous interviews with Fox and CNN about his investigation, which is five months old.

“We will continue our investigation,” said Issa on Fox News. “We will get to the bottom of it probably more by whistleblowers that we will by the administration. And it will only be to the detriment of the administration. We’re shocked that it’s become the cover-up rather than the admission that this was indefensible long ago.”

The operation authorized the sale of thousands of weapons in the southwest region to known and suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels and may have contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent.

The mounting congressional heat comes as Issa launched a separate investigation this week into the Obama administration’s process of approving government loans to private corporations out of a concern that political or financial influence might have played a role. 

Issa, who has subpoena power as chairman, commenced his latest investigation after solar panel-maker Solyndra declared bankruptcy late last month.

The Obama administration had touted the company, which received a $535 million government loan, as part of its stimulus program and green-jobs agenda.

But emails between the White House and Energy Department show administration officials pushing for quick consideration of the loans. One of Solyndra’s private investors is a major Obama campaign contributor, raising as much as $100,000 for the president’s 2008 victory. The emails depict efforts by the administration to give the donor a quicker return on his investment into the company than taxpayers.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is also investigating the Solyndra loan.

Issa was quick to tie the two investigations together, painting a picture of a corrupt administration.

The White House and Energy Department officials deny any wrongdoing.

“The administration broke rules repeatedly,” said Issa on Fox. “They broke long precedents in Fast and Furious and Brian Terry is dead as a result. They broke the very rules that protect the taxpayers from finding themselves first or early on the hook in the case of a failed company.”

The acting director of the ATF Kenneth Melson was replaced last month in the wake of the flawed Fast and Furious operation. The U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, who oversaw the legal aspects of the operation, resigned the same day.

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Melson has testified before Issa’s and Grassley’s staff that he was not aware that agents involved in the operation were being authorized to let the guns “walk” unsupervised in the hands of known and suspected criminals. 

Both President Obama and Holder have also said they were unaware of the program.

Issa has argued that as the head of the agency, Melson should have been aware of the operation. He has also blasted Holder for not knowing about an operation of its magnitude in his own agency, calling for him to be fired.

In his letter, Smith asked Holder to notify him if the DOJ planned to make any additional staff changes in response to the Fast and Furious operation and questioned why the immediate supervisors had not been disciplined. Smith also requested an explanation of what role officials at DOJ played in the decision-making process.

“It is simply difficult to believe that no one at main Justice was aware of the long-standing operation,” he said.