Sealed applications for wiretaps – approved by senior DOJ officials and obtained by the Oversight Committee – detail gunwalking efforts
WASHINGTON— Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa confronted Attorney General Eric Holder with new documents showing that senior Justice Department Officials in Washington were given specific information about reckless tactics in Operation Fast and Furious. In a letter, Issa rebuked the Attorney General for his continuing efforts to mislead Congress about both the contents of the wiretap applications and details of who knew about and gave approval for reckless tactics. While refusing to produce the subpoenaed documents, Holder has previously denied knowledge of and cast doubt on the possibility that the wiretap applications contained information about reckless tactics.
“The wiretap applications show that immense detail about questionable investigative tactics was available to the senior officials who reviewed and authorized them. The close involvement of these officials – much greater than previously known – is shocking,” Issa wrote to Holder. “Throughout the course of the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, the [Justice] Department has consistently denied that any senior officials were provided information about the tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious. The wiretap applications obtained by the Committee show such statements made by senior Department officials regarding the wiretaps to be false and misleading. You have repeatedly either denied involvement by senior officials in Fast and Furious, or asserted that the wiretap applications do not contain rich detail about irresponsible investigative tactics.”
Wiretaps utilized in Operation Fast and Furious were intended to allow investigators in Arizona to listen to the phone calls of suspects as part of a strategy to reveal evidence of involvement by high level Mexican cartel associates. The six applications for wiretaps, which have been sealed by a federal judge, detail specific actions taken by agents in Operation Fast and Furious. This includes conscious decisions not to interdict weapons that agents knew were illegally purchased by smugglers taking weapons to Mexico.
The wiretaps, as required by federal law, were submitted to Washington for approval by senior Justice Department officials in the Washington based Criminal Division of the Justice Department. They were approved under the authority of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Criminal Division. To justify the need for the invasive law enforcement tool, Justice Department officials use robust and detailed information to explain the evidence used to merit its use and why other tactics are not sufficient to achieve the goals of the operation.
Information contained in the wiretaps had been subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee, but the Justice Department had refused to turn them over to investigators. Obtaining them answers some of the questions the Committee and House leadership have warned Attorney General Holder he must fully address to avoid contempt proceedings. To date, Holder has not responded to this letter. As the wiretaps have been sealed, the committee cannot publicly release them but copies have been sent to the committee minority and the wiretaps are available for review by Members of the Committee. Click here for the letter from Chairman Issa to Attorney General Eric Holder
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Attorney General Eric Holder frustrated his most fierce Capitol Hill accuser and other GOP lawmakers Thursday when asked about the Justice Department’s Fast and Furious weapons sting and which high-ranking Obama administration officials knew about the botched operation.
Holder sidestepped questions by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa about whether he or other Justice Department officials had even started to pull together Fast and Furious documents requested in an October 2011 subpoena Issa sent the agency.
“Nothing has come from your department, not a shred of paper,” Issa said tersely during a House Judiciary Committee meeting.
Issa, R-Calif., is a member of the committee. He also is the chairman of the chamber’s Committee on Oversight and Government Affairs, from which he issued the subpoena. The requests were largely related to an ill-conceived and executed Fast and Furious tactic known as “gunwalking,” which has been linked to the 2010 death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
“You are not a good witness,” Issa said in frustration, after Holder essentially repeated his questions.
When admonished for not letting Holder answer questions and taking a sharp tone, Issa replied, “I applaud there was hostility,” frustrated he had only five minutes to ask questions.
Issa has vowed to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to respond to the subpoena. Holder has testified he has given congressional investigators the requisite information.
On Monday, Issa released information about six wiretap applications that he says prove high-ranking Justice Department officials knew about the gunwalking tactic.
Issa says the applications were signed by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Holder’s second in command.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said high-level Justice Department officials had no specific knowledge of the gunwalking tactic.
Holder has testified at least seven times before Congress on Fast and Furious and has acknowledged the program’s failures.
“We now know … inappropriate tactics were used in an attempt to stem the flow of illegal guns across the Southwest border,” he said Thursday in opening remarks. “Although these law enforcement operations … were focused on the laudable goal of dismantling illegal gun trafficking networks, they were flawed in both concept and execution.”
The Justice Department responded to Issa’s interpretation of the wiretap applications in a letter saying the agency disagrees with his assertion but is “legally prohibited from commenting on the content of sealed court documents."
The gunwalking tactic had the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona stage gun sales across the Mexico border with alleged arms dealers, with the hope that the thousands of weapons would lead to organizers of drug cartels. However, the guns purportedly were used in street crimes, and one was allegedly found after a shootout in which U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.
In another tense exchange Thursday, GOP Rep. Lamar Smith asked Holder whether he or anybody else told the White House about so-called “gunwalking tactic” after it appeared to contribute to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, Holder replied “I don’t know.”
The exchange occurred during a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee, on which Smith is the chairman.
“When was anyone in the White House informed of the tactics used under Operation Fast and Furious?” asked Smith, R-Texas.
Holder replied: “I don't know.”
When Smith asked Holder if he personally told the White House, Holder replied: “There was contact between staff. .. I don't myself remember any direct contact.”