Cummings: Project Gunrunner subpoena could compromise criminal investigations

Darrell Issa’s combative foil on the oversight committee, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, is warning Issa’s unanswered subpoena for documents relating to Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious could compromise ongoing criminal investigations, backing objections to the document demand by the Justice Department.

Cummings also says documents released Wednesday by Issa – most of which have been at least referenced in public already – reveal details on three ongoing criminal investigations.

“Our Committee has a responsibility to investigate allegations of waste, fraud and abuse. However, despite my repeated requests, Chairman Issa has refused to meet with the Department of Justice to ensure that his actions do not compromise ongoing investigations and prosecutions, including a trial of 20 individuals that is scheduled to begin in June,” Cummings said in a written statement.

An April 13 letter from a top Justice Department official to Issa on why the agency was not complying with the congressional subpoena said, “we are not in a position to disclose non-public information or documents relating to on-going criminal investigations, based on the Department’s long-standing policy relating to such matters.

“The policy is essential to our law enforcement mission,” the letter says.

Issa says the objection is spurious.

“We are not conducting a concurrent investigation with the Department of Justice, but rather an independent investigation of the Department of Justice,” Issa says in a April 20 letter, citing three historical examples of congressional oversight of Justice Department investigations, including during the Teapot Dome scandal in 1922.

Insiders say the standoff will likely result in a negotiation about which documents the agency releases. In response to the subpoena, the Justice Department released none.

At issue are documents related to Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed American guns to be smuggled into Mexico and sold to Mexican drug cartels. The goal of the program was to track the illegal weapons and drug markets after they were used in crimes and abandoned using ballistics information and serial numbers for the guns.