By Jordy Yager - 11/09/11 11:13 PM EST
The Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee blasted a top-ranking Justice Department official on Wednesday for lying to Congress about a botched gun tracking operation.
In a letter on Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.) questioned whether Robert Welch, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s office of legislative affairs, intentionally lied to Congress or was “fed a lie and faithfully repeated it” when he responded to a lawmaker’s letter by stating that the federal government doesn’t let guns “walk.”
In his letter to Weich on Wednesday, Issa said he has documents indicating that high-level ATF and DOJ officials in multiple offices were involved in preparing and drafting the letter to Grassley, who launched Congress’ probe into the controversial Operation Fast and Furious.
Those officials, Issa said, had access to “reams of evidence that showed ATF did not make every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”
Issa took Weich to task for the statements made in the letter to Grassley. In testimony before Issa’s committee in June, Weich accepted full responsibility for the contents of the letter.
“Mr. Weich, as you are well aware, it is a crime to knowingly make false statements to Congress,” Issa wrote on Wednesday.
“As the Department’s principal liaison to Congress, we rely on you to be straight with the facts. You have not been, and so your credibility on this issue has been seriously eroded.
“Whether it is the case that you were fed a lie and faithfully repeated it in a letter to Congress, or whether it is the case that you took the initiative to lie to Congress yourself, you are responsible for the contents of letters that bear your signature. The buck stops with you,” Issa said.
Issa asked Weich to give him by next Wednesday a complete list of everyone involved in preparing the letter, copies of communications discussing its preparation, and any existing earlier drafts of the letter.
On Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder, Grassley said DOJ lied when it sent him Weich’s letter.
Holder told Grassley he regrets that the DOJ officials involved in writing that letter to Grassley used inaccurate information. But the attorney general stressed that officials believed the information to be true at the time, saying they did not intentionally mislead Congress.
“There was information in that letter that was inaccurate,” Holder said. “The letter could have been better crafted."
“People in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, people at ATF, people who themselves have now indicated in their congressional testimony before the House that they were not aware of the tactics that were employed — as a result of that, the information that is contained in that February 4 letter to you was not, in fact, accurate. And ... I regret that,” Holder said.