A senior official from the U.S. Attorney's office is refusing to appear before the committee headed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who subpoenaed him as part of the panel's investigation into the botched gun-tracking operation "Fast and Furious."
In a letter to Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, an attorney for Patrick Cunningham, chief of the Phoenix office’s criminal division within the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona, said he was planning to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid acting as a witness against himself.
“Senior Justice Department officials have recently told the committee that you relayed inaccurate and misleading information to the department in preparation for its initial response to Congress,” said Issa in the letter, which was made public on Thursday.
But Tobin Romero, a lawyer with the Washington office of Williams and Connolly, told Issa that Cunningham, who is reportedly resigning from his job next week, was not guilty of any wrongdoing.
“If, as you claim, Department officials have blamed my client, they have blamed him unfairly,” Romero wrote in his letter to Issa.
“My client is, in fact, innocent, but he has been ensnared by the unfortunate circumstances in which he now stands between two branches of government. I will therefore be instructing him to assert his constitutional privilege."
Cunningham’s involvement centers largely on the role he might have played in Fast and Furious as well as his role in the crafting a letter sent from the Justice Department last year to Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Friends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (R-Iowa). That letter contained false statements about the operation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Attorney's office in Arizona.
One Republican lawmaker, Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner, has suggested impeaching Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderOvernight Tech: Senate moving to kill FCC's internet privacy rules | Bill Gates pushes for foreign aid | Verizon, AT&T pull Google ads | Q&A with IBM's VP for cyber threat intel Uber leadership sticking by CEO Top Dems prep for future while out of the spotlight MORE for lying to Congress.
In that February letter, which has since been rescinded, DOJ stated that it did everything in its power to make sure that firearms do not cross the border into Mexico.
But Tobin said that while Cunningham did, in fact, provide draft language to his supervisor who then delivered it to the DOJ, that language was not included in the DOJ’s letter to Congress.
Later, it came to light that Operation Fast and Furious oversaw the sale of nearly 2,000 guns to known and suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels. Officials did not provide surveillance for the weapons — a highly controversial tactic known as letting guns “walk” — which caused many of the firearms to go missing.
In late 2010, two of the guns sold under the operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona, miles from the border.
Issa has been investigating the operation and the tactics it used since March of last year. Holder and President Obama have denied ever approving or knowing about the tactics used in Fast and Furious. A separate inspector general investigation has been ongoing since March 2011.
Holder is scheduled to appear before Issa's committee in two weeks.
The committee has been working with Cunningham’s lawyer since August to arrange an interview, and one had been scheduled for Thursday, according to Issa’s letter. But Cunningham canceled on Tuesday, leading the chairman to issue the subpoena.
Cunningham was named once before in a subpoena Issa issued in October that sought email communications between top DOJ officials. In that subpoena was a request for correspondence sent to or from Cunningham between Dec. 16 and 18, 2009; Dec. 15 and 17, 2010; and March 9 and 14, 2011.
Cunningham worked directly under former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke, who oversaw much of the legal advice given during Operation Fast and Furious. Burke resigned in August at the same time that the top two officials at the ATF were reassigned.
— This story was updated at 4:40 p.m.