February 29, 2012

Holder loses cool during House hearing when asked about Fast and Furious

A visibly frustrated Attorney General Eric Holder slammed the table when responding to a question about Operation Fast and Furious during a Tuesday budget hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

“That was a fundamentally flawed program, fundamentally flawed,” Holder said of Fast and Furious. “And, I think that I can agree with some of my harshest critics that there are legitimate issues that need to be explored with regard in which the way Fast and Furious was carried out.”

“But, I think one thing that also has to be understood is that once this was brought to my attention” — Holder said before slamming his hand on the committee room table he was sitting at — “I stopped it. I stopped it.”

During an interview with Fox News host Megyn Kelly shortly after Holder’s comments, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa — the lead congressional investigator into the Fast and Furious scandal with Sen. Chuck Grassley — said he and others in Congress don’t think Holder is telling the full truth.

“Well, certainly one of the reasons we doubt the legitimacy of that claim is, on Feb. 4 [2011], we received what was in fact an untruthful, a lie, a false letter that has now been retracted,” Issa said. “Lanny Breuer, one of his chief aides and number three at Justice, was in Mexico lobbying for more gun-walking. Additional evidence shows that [U.S. agent] Jaime Zapata was killed with a similar program weapon. In other words, this was a policy change that happened and continued up until fairly recently. We need to get to the bottom of it.”

In addition, Issa said that if Holder wants to show he’s cooperating with the congressional investigation and is interested in really ending gun-walking, he’d fork over the rest of the lawfully-subpoenaed documents he’s still hiding from Congress. (RELATED: Full coverage of Eric Holder)

“The inspector general at Justice has 80,000 pages and we have 6,000 pages, but even in those 6,000 pages we find damning evidence that high-ranking people in Justice knew all along and not only didn’t stop this program, but believed in it,” Issa said.

Fast and Furious was a program of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, overseen by Holder’s DOJ. It sent thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers — people who legally purchased guns in the United States with the known intention of illegally trafficking them somewhere else.

At least 300 people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The identities of the Mexican victims are unknown. Allegations have surfaced that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was also killed with Fast and Furious weapons. Many members of Congress have demanded Holder’s resignation or firing over the scandal, arguing that he either should have known about it, or did know about it and is trying to cover up the evidence. They also point to how nobody has been held accountable for the operation more than a full year after the DOJ provided false information to Congress, and even longer since Terry was murdered.

As the two lists don’t perfectly overlap, 103 members of the House have called for Holder’s resignation, signed an official resolution of “no confidence” in Holder, or both. Three U.S. senators, two sitting governors and all major Republican presidential candidates have called for Holder’s resignation or firing, too.

During the hearing, Holder also took a stab at the George W. Bush administration, implying that previous attorneys general were briefed on operations similar to Fast and Furious. “In spite of what other attorneys general might have done with briefings that they got, when this attorney general heard about these practices, I said to the men and women at the United States Department of Justice, to the field, to Main Justice, ‘This ain’t going to be the way we conduct business. Stop it.’”

During the Bush administration, there were similar programs: Operation Wide Receiver, the Hernandez Case, and the Medrano case. According to the report released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, in Wide Receiver and the Hernandez case — which former Attorney General Michael Mukasey reportedly was briefed on — Bush administration officials attempted to coordinate with Mexican law enforcement. In the Medrano case, it’s unclear whether or not an attempt at coordinating with Mexico was made, according to the Democratic report.

In Fast and Furious, though, Obama administration officials and Congressional Democrats have admitted they made no attempt to coordinate with Mexican law enforcement. The attempts Bush administration officials made to work with Mexican law enforcement, and the Obama administration’s lack of such efforts, is a detail Holder and his allies have downplayed in their comments on the scandal.

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