By Jordy Yager - 01/31/12 11:05 PM EST
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) threatened to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress if the nation’s top cop doesn’t hand over Justice Department documents within nine days.
Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, blasted Holder in a letter on Tuesday for refusing to comply with the panel’s subpoena for documents relating to the "Operation Fast and Furious" gun-trafficking operation.
Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have repeatedly asked DOJ for documents pertaining to the creation of a letter the department sent to Grassley on Feb. 4, 2011, which stated that it did everything in its power to stop guns from being trafficked across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Testimony from agents involved in Fast and Furious and subsequent documents released by DOJ show that these claims are false. The Department of Justice has since withdrawn the Feb. 4 letter.
Holder, who is scheduled to appear before Issa's committee on Thursday, has told lawmakers that he regrets the use of inaccurate information in the letter but that DOJ was not attempting to intentionally mislead or lie to Congress.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last month, Holder told lawmakers that the department was not planning to give any documents created after Feb. 4, 2011, to Congress, saying that he had taken the unprecedented step and released to Issa’s committee a score of documents prior to Feb. 4 detailing the letter's creation.
Issa, in Tuesday’s letter to Holder, objected, and demanded to be given a reason for Holder’s refusal to hand over the remaining documents requested under the subpoena — or be held in contempt of Congress.
“Since the department initially misrepresented the facts and misled Congress, it is necessary to investigate the department’s response to our investigation. Your actions lead us to conclude that the department is actively engaged in a cover-up,” wrote Issa.
He continued: “Should you choose to continue to withhold documents pursuant to the subpoena, you must create a detailed privilege log explaining why the department is refusing to produce each document.”
If an official is held in contempt of Congress for a refusal to comply with a subpoena, Issa’s committee can either report a resolution of contempt to the House or move to take the less severe action and cite Holder for contempt.
Operation Fast and Furious was launched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2009 to try to trace weapons from the United States to Mexican drug cartels by authorizing the sale of guns in the Southwest border region to known and suspected straw purchasers for the cartels.
But ATF agents were often told to abandon their surveillance of the weapons, allowing them — and the straw buyers — to disappear, according to House testimony from numerous agents. The only remaining hope for agents to track the guns was if other agencies found them at crime scenes or during drug raids and identified them by their serial numbers.
Authorities discovered two such weapons, sold under the operation, at the Arizona murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. According to testimony, agents in the region are terrified that some of the thousands of guns still at large will be used to kill more innocent people.