Politics

Issa jumps into gunrunning scandal documents requests after State Dept. stonewalls Sen. Grassley

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, demanded that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton produce documents regarding an alleged connection between operation “Fast and Furious,” a gunrunning scandal the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) partook in, and the Dec. 14 shooting of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

According to a CBS News investigation, ATF was allowing weapons smugglers to sell American guns to Mexican drug cartels in the hope that they could gain more information about the weapons and drug markets’ major players by tracing their connections through ballistics and guns’ serial numbers as shootings happened.

Specifically, Issa is asking for information relating to meetings Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, his deputy, and then-U.S. ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual, among other officials, had last summer in Mexico City. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, first asked the State Department for the same documents on March 4, but got the cold shoulder from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Issa is requesting, “meeting minutes, briefing notes, e-mails and cables relating to any such meeting or meetings that may have occurred from June through September 2010.” Issa also asks Clinton to “please explain in detail the reasons behind your refusal to answer the Senator directly.”

The reason he’s joining Grassley’s request, Issa wrote, is because he thinks, “given the gravity of this matter, this refusal is simply unacceptable.” Unlike Grassley, Issa does have subpoena power he could choose to use if Clinton refuses to provide the requested information or if she doesn’t acknowledge the request.

“I understand that you have yet to respond and are likely to refuse Senator Grassley’s request for information without a letter from the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Issa wrote to Clinton. “This refusal is mystifying in its own right, given Senator Grassley’s standing as the Ranking Member of that Committee. More inexplicably, your refusal stands in stark contradiction to the promise of transparency promoted by President Obama.”

In an interview with CBS News on Tuesday, Issa said this isn’t a political issue and members of both parties should be concerned about ATF’s decision-making process and who made the decision. Issa also clarified why he and Grassley are asking for information from Clinton and the State Department, as ATF falls under the Justice Department and reports to Attorney General Eric Holder.

“In this case, this is about specific context with the Secretary [of State] that we want to know and we want to know about that action,” Issa said. “But, moreover, it’s part of a larger investigation, one in which we have to get to the bottom of – what were they thinking and how could they for a moment think that a thousand, or many thousands of weapons, could be allowed to go into Mexico, not being tracked, fully functional, and not lead to the death of innocent people.”

Issa also said he believes the decisions for “Project Gunrunner,” were ones that, “go to the highest level of this administration’s political appointees – that they either knew or should have known or had the ability to know and allowed this cover-up to go on – and continue until this day.”

Obama said he and Holder didn’t approve ATF’s decisions to allow the guns to make it into drug cartels’ possession, but Issa says, he doesn’t “say what somebody else did or didn’t know.”

“It will be up to the Attorney General to say whether he knew or not,” Issa said. “Right now, the president’s word about what somebody else knew would not be acceptable. As much as we love the president, we can accept him at his word – he didn’t know. The Attorney General is going to have to say what he knew and when he knew it – and, if he didn’t know, who in his hierarchy did know and when did they know it?”

Issa gave Clinton until 5 p.m. on April 12 to provide the documents.