House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday urging him to appoint a special counsel to determine whether Attorney General Eric Holder lied to Congress about “Operation Fast and Furious.” That’s the program in which federal law enforcement officials allowed gun runners for Mexican drug cartels to buy firearms in the U.S.
The idea was that the weapons would later be found at Mexican crime scenes, thus implicating cartel members. Unfortunately, the weapons have also been used in crimes here in the U.S., including the murder last December of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was shot and killed near Rio Rico, Ariz. Panicky Justice Department officials canceled the program soon thereafter.
From the beginning, Holder and other Obama political appointees within the Justice Department have tried to minimize the scandal, first asserting that only the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives knew about the program, then claiming only ATF headquarters knew, and, finally, insisting that some people at Justice only knew the general outlines of the program.
Determining who knew what, and when, has been an essential part of the investigation conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from the beginning.
Smith’s call for a special counsel stems from Holder’s response on May 3 to this question from the oversight panel’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista: “When did you first know about the program, officially I believe known as Fast and Furious, to the best of your knowledge, what date?” Holder responded: “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” Holder’s statement was not true. CBS News obtained memos showing that Holder knew about Operation Fast and Furious as far back as July 2010, thanks to five memos from subordinates detailing various aspects of the program.
The Justice Department now claims Holder misunderstand Issa’s question. They say Holder knew about the program, but did not know about the program’s details. But the emails obtained by CBS News show that is highly unlikely.
For instance, an Oct. 17, 2010, email from deputy assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division Jason Weinstein to deputy chief of the National Gang Unit James Trusty questions the wisdom of having Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer attend a news conference associated with Fast and Furious, “given the number of guns that have walked.”
These emails make clear that senior Holder aides knew that allowing dangerous gun sales to go forward were at the heart of Operation Fast and Furious. It’s highly unlikely that they did not alert Holder to these facts.
Best case: Holder has surrounded himself with incompetents and should fire them forthwith. Worst case: Holder lied when he denied knowing about the scheme and should get the boot himself.