Holder claims his testimony was accurate, pushes back against ‘inflammatory rhetoric’

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

Attorney General Eric Holder snapped back at the House oversight committee Friday afternoon, saying his testimony before a May 3 House Judiciary Committee hearing was “truthful and accurate” in what appears to be a Friday evening news dump.

In a five-page letter to House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Democratic member Rep. Elijah Cummings, Sen. Chuck Grassley and several other members of Congress, Holder lashed back at recent reports that he knew about the operation long before when he claims.

“Much has been made in the past few days about my congressional testimony earlier this year regarding Fast and Furious,” Holder wrote. “My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout. I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it.”

Holder’s testimony was called into question by CBS News and other press and public record accounts. In an Oct. 3 story, CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson reported that Justice Department spokespeople told her “[Holder] did know about Fast and Furious – just not the details.” A DOJ spokesperson, Tracy Schmaler, didn’t answer when The Daily Caller presented her with these inconsistencies.

Attkisson is the reporter White House press staffer Eric Schultz verbally attacked for her Fast and Furious reporting. It’s unclear if Schultz or the White House will apologize to Attkisson and CBS News for the alleged rude behavior, and Schultz has not answered when TheDC asked if he would.

Holder additionally claimed that he didn’t read weekly briefings addressed to him. “On a weekly basis, my office typically receives over a hundred pages of so-called ‘weekly reports’ that, while addressed to me’ actually are provided to and reviewed by members of my staff and the staff of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General,” Holder wrote.

Holder also said he’s held off talking about Operation Fast and Furious, the program in which federal agents allowed guns to be sold to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers, until now because he asked his department’s inspector general to conduct an internal investigation into what happened.

Despite having started its review months ago, the Justice Department’s Inspector General has not produced a report on it yet — though the House oversight committee’s investigation has produced results. Ken Melson has been reassigned from his previous post as acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Phoenix U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke has resigned.

Holder said he now feels compelled to address the public’s concerns because new information indicates that he was informed of Fast and Furious multiple times and was given several briefings on what happened.

Holder said what he considers to be vitriol emanating from the media and Capitol Hill also forced him to address the concerns.

“[I]n the past few days, the public discourse concerning these issues has become so base and harmful to interests that I hope we all share that I must now address these issues notwithstanding the Inspector General’s ongoing review,” Holder wrote.

Holder specifically names a story TheDC first reported as one of the reasons he’s now talking. This week, TheDC reported that Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who sits on the House oversight committee, thinks that administration officials responsible for Operation Fast and Furious should be considered “accessories to murder.” But Holder twisted Gosar’s comments.

“I simply cannot sit idly by as a Majority Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered ‘accessories to murder,’” Holder wrote. “Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms.”

What Gosar was referring to is that Obama administration political appointees, not law enforcement officers, responsible for Fast and Furious would be accessories to murder. As has become customary for the administration throughout the scandal, DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler did not answer when TheDC asked if Holder actually read the story before commenting on it.

Without answering, Schmaler bashed TheDC for asking the question. “No bias there in those q’s matthew [Boyle], eh?,” she wrote in an email. When TheDC followed up, she responded that it was “no accusation, just a question” and did not provide an answer to the inquiry.

Holder now admits that “Operation Fast and Furious was fundamentally flawed” but he suggests that the problem has already been remedied and that his resignation won’t be necessary, as Reps. Blake Farenthold and Raul Labrador insist. “[N]ew leadership is now in place both at ATF and in the United States Attorney’s Office in Arizona,” Holder wrote.

In the letter, Holder also suggests – but doesn’t outright state – that the weekly briefing reports he admits his office staff received and reviewed did not contain details of how Operation Fast and Furious allowed guns to walk into Mexico. That’s despite a detailed description at least five of those memos contain.

“This investigation, initiated in September 2009 in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Phoenix Police Department, involved a Phoenix-based firearms trafficking ring headed by Manuel Celis-Acosta,” each of the briefings addressed to Holder state. “Celis-Acosta and straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug trafficking cartels.”

That last sentence appears to describe how weapons were allowed to walk into Mexico.

A spokesman for the House oversight committee said Holder’s letter doesn’t resolve any outstanding questions.

“If Attorney General Holder had said these things five months ago when Congress asked him about Operation Fast and Furious, it might have been more believable,” committee spokesman Frederick Hill said. “At this point, however, it’s hard to take at face value a defense that is factually questionable, entirely self-serving, and a still incomplete account of what senior Justice Department officials knew about gun walking.”

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