Issa: Holder's defense on Fast and Furious ‘has reached a new low'

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued a scathing reply to Attorney General Eric Holder over his role in the authorization of a botched gun-tracking operation and the Justice Department’s cooperation with a congressional investigation.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa said the DOJ has tried to detract his panel’s investigation into "Operation Fast and Furious" since it began, offering “a roving set of ever-changing explanations to justify its involvement in this reckless and deadly program.”

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In a letter sent to Holder on Sunday and publically released on Monday, Issa lists several instances in which the DOJ either denied the existence of the gun “walking” tactics used in Fast and Furious — the process of allowing for the sale or delivery of firearms into the hands of suspected criminals — or dragged its feet in turning over documents the committee had subpoenaed.

“All of these efforts were designed to circle the wagons around DOJ and its political appointees,” wrote Issa.

Holder has found himself at the center of Issa’s investigation, launched with cooperation from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa.), into Fast and Furious, which might have contributed to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.


Internal Justice Department memos released last week show that Holder was notified about the existence of the operation as early as last year. Holder testified in May before the House Judiciary Committee that he did not know about the operation until recently. The White House and the DOJ said that Holder was referring to when he was made aware of the controversial and taboo tactics used in the operation.

After enduring a week’s worth of criticism from Republicans — including calls for his resignation, accusations that he was trying to devise a cover-up, and a statement that he was an accessory to murder — Holder wrote a letter to the chairman and ranking members of three committees with jurisdiction over the DOJ, in which he said the latest fury of congressional reaction was irresponsible. 

"I cannot sit idly by as a Majority Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered 'accessories to murder,' ” wrote Holder.

“Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms."

But Issa shot back in his most recent letter, saying that instead of addressing the shortcomings of the DOJ to deliver pertinent and timely information about the operation to Congress, Holder denigrated the already contentious relationship between the Justice Department and Congress even further with his letter.

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Holder’s letter “did little but obfuscate, shift blame, berate, and attempt to change the topic away from the Department’s responsibility in the creation, implementation, and authorization” of Fast and Furious, said Issa.

Issa, who is pushing for Holder to appear before Congress again to testify, said the letter called into question his ability to serve the American people as attorney general.

“It appears your latest defense has reached a new low,” wrote Issa.

“Incredibly, in your letter from Friday you now claim that you were unaware of Fast and Furious because your staff failed to inform you of information contained in memos that were specifically addressed to you. At best, this indicates negligence and incompetence in your duties as Attorney General. At worst, it places your credibility in serious doubt.”

In his letter, Issa pointed to Gary Grindler, Holder’s chief of staff and the former acting deputy attorney general, as one example that senior DOJ officials knew about Fast and Furious and the tactics it employed as early as last year.

In March 2010, Grindler was made aware of the operation’s gun sales to a suspected straw buyer who lived on food stamps, according to Issa’s letter. The buyer paid for more than 700 guns with cash and Grindler did nothing to stop the operation, said Issa.

Issa said that Grindler either told Holder about the operation and its tactics, or he did not. If he did tell Holder, then the attorney general was not being truthful when he told Congress that he was only made recently aware of the operation. If Grindler did not tell Holder, then it would be considered a “dereliction of his duties.”

Issa concludes that Grindler must have told Holder because he was not fired for “dereliction” and was instead given his current job as Holder’s chief of staff.


—This story was updated at 1:47 p.m.


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