By Jordy Yager - 06/19/12 12:28 AM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to meet with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Tuesday as part of his attempt to stave off a vote to hold him in contempt of Congress.
In a letter to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent on Monday, Holder proposed the meeting in order to discuss the role of the Justice Department in the botched gun-tracking operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
It is expected that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who first raised the controversial issue of “gun-walking” in Fast and Furious in Congress, will also attend.
Issa responded to Holder with a letter of his own on Monday evening, agreeing to meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the committee’s offices in the Rayburn House Office Building. Issa made no promise to delay the contempt vote but said if Holder hopes to avoid it, he needs to fork over all of the documents his staff promised in their meeting last Thursday. Issa stressed that Holder should deliver them to the committee ahead of the afternoon meeting so his staff could have time to review them.
On Wednesday, Issa’s panel is scheduled to vote on whether to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress for not complying with the powerful Republican’s subpoena for documents related to Fast and Furious. In the lead-up to the vote, both sides have been engaged in a public relations battle, each volunteering to meet with the other and releasing letters to the press to display a willingness to reach a solution.
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Holder said in his Monday letter that the DOJ had delivered to Issa the answers that he has been pressing for.
“The department has offered a serious, good-faith proposal to bring this matter to an amicable resolution in the form of a briefing based on documents that the committee could retain,” Holder wrote.
“We expect that this extraordinary accommodation will fully address the remaining concerns that you and House leadership have identified in your written and oral communications to the department over the last few weeks.”
Cummings said he was encouraged by last week’s discussions between the DOJ and the committee and pressed Issa to abandon his move toward a contempt vote for Holder.
“Last week, the chairman asked for a ‘serious proposal’ on these documents, and the attorney general gave us one the next day,” said Cummings in a statement. “I look forward to our meeting tomorrow with the attorney general to finalize the terms of this proposed agreement, and I see no reason to proceed with contempt given these positive developments.”
Issa has narrowed his demands of Holder over the past month to focus on documents pertaining to the DOJ’s letter to Grassley on Feb. 4, 2011, in which the department said that it did everything it could not to let guns “walk” into the hands of criminals and be trafficked across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ten months later, the DOJ took a rare step and withdrew the letter because it contained falsities.
Issa has said he believes the DOJ is involved in a “cover-up,” arguing that the high-level department officials clearly knew about the controversial gun-walking tactics and perhaps even approved them.
Holder has denied that he ever knew about the tactics. And though he has defended most of the close circle of DOJ officials around him, the top two officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which oversaw Fast and Furious, were reassigned.
The U.S. attorney who provided ATF agents legal advice on the failed operation stepped down. And last week, the DOJ official responsible for penning the letter to Grassley took a job as a dean of a university law school.
Holder said on Monday that the briefing his office provided to Issa’s staff last week gives a detailed answer to the GOP’s questions about how much the DOJ knew and when.
“These documents explain how the department’s understanding of the facts of Operations Fast and Furious, Wide Receiver and similar Arizona-based investigations evolved during the post-Feb. 4 period, and the process that led to the withdrawal of the Feb. 4 letter,” Holder said.
But Issa, in a letter to Holder last Friday, was highly skeptical that the information covered in the briefing would be sufficient evidence to avoid a contempt vote for the attorney general.
“In a meeting yesterday, the department offered some additional details about the subset of post-Feb. 4 documents you are willing to produce pursuant to the committee’s Oct. 12, 2011, subpoena,” Issa wrote on Friday.
“While I do have substantial concerns that these documents may not be sufficient to allow the committee to complete its investigation, delivery of these documents to the committee before the scheduled consideration of contempt at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, would be sufficient to justify the postponement of the proceeding to allow for the review of materials,” he wrote.
In his Friday letter, Issa proposed meeting with Holder on Tuesday, after the attorney general had made numerous public and private offers to meet with Issa, Grassley and House Republican leadership over the weeks prior.
Fast and Furious was a gun-tracking operation run by the ATF in the Southwest that authorized the sale of nearly 2,000 guns to straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels.
The stated goal was to track the guns and dismantle the illegal trafficking routes. But the ATF did not monitor the movement of the weapons and instead depended on the guns turning up at crime scenes or drug busts to match the serial numbers with the ones sold in the operation.
It’s estimated that hundreds of the guns are still in the hands of criminals. At least one firearm found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s killing was sold under Fast and Furious. It is unclear whether it was used to kill Terry.