Holder subpoened in Fast & Furious probe
Lawmakers hope to learn what Justice Dept. knew
WASHINGTON — A House committee subpoenaed Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday, demanding to know what he knew about the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun-trafficking investigation and when he knew it.
The sweeping subpoena from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee demands documents, tapes, memos, emails and more between Holder and more than 20 other officials and nine other offices or agencies, including the White House, going back more than two years.
“The documents this subpoena demands will provide answers to questions that Justice (Department) officials have tried to avoid since this investigation began eight months ago,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in a prepared statement.
“It’s time we know the whole truth,” said Issa, the committee chairman, who has charged that Justice Department officials, including Holder, know more about the operation than they have revealed.
Justice Department officials did not return requests for comment Wednesday. But Fox News reported that Holder addressed the subpoena at the end of a news conference about an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
“What I want the American people to understand is that in complying with those subpoenas and dealing with that inquiry, that will not detract us from the important business that we have here to do at the Justice Department, including matters like the one that we have announced today,” Holder was quoted as saying.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., was more blunt, calling the “subpoena is a deep-sea fishing expedition and a gross abuse of the committee’s authority,” according to the Fox report.
“Rather than legitimate fact-gathering, this looks more like a political stunt,” Cummings was quoted as saying.
The subpoenas come less than a week after 10 Arizona sheriffs demanded that a special counsel be appointed to investigate Operation Fast and Furious, including the role of top administration officials in it.
Operation Fast and Furious was an Arizona-based operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives aimed at stemming the flow of illegal guns to Mexican drug cartels. Under the operation, which started in late 2009, ATF agents let illicit gun-buyers go, in the hopes of tracing the guns to larger gun-trafficking networks.
Instead of tracing the weapons, however, congressional testimony this summer revealed that more than 2,000 guns and 10,000 or more rounds of ammunition “walked” out of agents’ sight.
Many of those guns found their way across the border and into the hands of drug cartels, officials testified. Hundreds of the weapons were later recovered at violent crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico, including one from Fast and Furious that was found at the scene of the shootout that killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December.
Issa’s committee has issued a highly critical report that called the killing “likely a preventable tragedy.” Several ATF officials testified that the agency “made mistakes” in the operation, while several field agents testified that they were horrified by the operation.
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan, one of the 10 sheriffs calling for a more-thorough investigation, praised the committee’s decision to issue subpoenas in the case.
“We are very concerned and we need to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Sheahan said Wednesday. “It (Fast and Furious) was doomed to failure from the start.”
Greenlee County Sheriff Steve Tucker said that, just as he is responsible for policies in his department, Holder should be responsible for anything that happens under his Justice Department. And he said that what happened in Operation Fast and Furious was inexcusable.
“Had to have been a thought at some point that if we put arms in the hands of violent offenders someone will lose their life,” said Tucker. “A third-grader can figure that out.”
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, said in prepared statement that hopes Holder will comply with the subpoenas and release the documents so the public can understand who is responsible for this operation.
“Holder’s explanation of the operation to date has been unacceptable and his refusal to take responsibility for the crimes associated with it reprehensible,” said Gosar, a member of the committee.