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Obstruction at Justice: Holder Still Stalling on Fast and Furious

May 29, 2012
Weekly Columns

More than one year after the congressional investigation into "Operation Fast and Furious" began, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice continue to obstruct all efforts to bring accountability to those responsible for the disastrous gun-walking operation that left one Border Patrol agent dead and put hundreds of weapons in the hands of dangerous Mexican drug cartels. 

When the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee launched its formal investigation in February 2011, Eric Holder's Justice Department responded by issuing a letter to Congress denying responsibility or even knowledge of the operation.  Only after numerous documents and e-mail records proved direct Justice Department participation did the agency rescind the denial -- nearly 10 months later.  Although Holder testified in May 2011 that he had only learned of Fast and Furious "over the last few weeks," the facts indicate Justice Department involvement as early as July 2010 when the attorney general's weekly memos began including briefings about the operation.  Furthermore, federal law requires that Holder or a member of his leadership team review and approve any wiretap application made to a federal judge.  The congressional investigation determined that Fast and Furious may have included as many as seven wiretaps between March and July 2010.

If the Justice Department would cooperate with the investigation, we could learn who signed off on the wiretaps and other elements of the operation, as well as when and why.  Appropriate actions could be taken to prevent future misjudgments and ensure those responsible are held accountable.  Unfortunately, the department has repeatedly refused to supply subpoenaed evidence.  The investigating committee issued a subpoena in October 2011 specifying 22 categories of documents the department was legally required to turn over.  To date, Justice Department officials have supplied responsive documents for only 12 of the 22 categories.  Within those 12 categories, the department has not completely fulfilled the requirements for 10.  Many of the documents Justice has provided are so heavily redacted as to be useless.

There is also evidence of retaliation against the whistleblowers who exposed Fast and Furious to Congress after Justice Department officials ignored their concerns.  After notifying the department of his upcoming testimony to Congress, Special Agent Larry Alt was informed that he was under Justice Department investigation for allegedly downloading $8 worth of unauthorized applications to his government-issued phone.  Although no evidence was ever found that Alt downloaded the applications, his eligibility for promotions and pay raises was suspended for the duration of the investigation.

In addition to the subpoena process, Congress has taken numerous steps to see justice served for the Fast and Furious debacle.  Republicans were joined by 142 Democrats in a recent vote to deny funding to Justice Department efforts to obstruct the investigation.  Legislators in the House have also introduced a resolution of no confidence in Eric Holder, of which I am a cosponsor.  On May 18, House Speaker John Boehner and House leadership submitted a letter to Attorney General Holder requesting once again that the Justice Department provide the subpoenaed documents so the investigation can conclude. 

Eric Holder and the Justice Department have had every opportunity to work with Congress to determine accountability for Operation Fast and Furious so that such a reckless, costly error never happens again. Instead, the department has stalled and undermined the investigation at every turn.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is currently considering issuing contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General Holder.  This is a serious step, but the conduct of Justice Department officials in such an important investigation is a serious matter.  Attorney General Holder has an obligation to the Constitution and to the American people to resolve Operation Fast and Furious once and for all.