House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa has demanded an explanation from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich for a false statement he made to Congress in a February 4, 2011 letter. Weich is a deputy to Attorney General Eric Holder, who has become embroiled in the scandal stemming from the failed “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-walking program.
In his February 4 letter to Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, Weich wrote that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives “makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, conceded in Senate testimony Tuesday that the statement in that letter was false, and that he knew it was false long before the letter was written.
Breuer has not said whether he had a hand in drafting that letter, but he waited more than nine months to correct the record.
Weich and Holder have refused to comply with a congressional subpoena for information about who prepared the letter and who reviewed it before it went out. Even so, Issa has renewed his demand for information that would prove who inserted the false information.
“Mr. Weich, as you are well aware, it is a crime to knowingly make false statements to Congress,” Issa wrote in a letter released Wednesday. “As the Department’s principal liaison to Congress, we rely on you to be straight with the facts. You have not been, and so your credibility on this issue has been seriously eroded.”
“Whether it is the case that you were fed a lie and faithfully repeated it in a letter to Congress, or whether it is the case that you took the initiative to lie to Congress yourself, you are responsible for the contents of letters that bear your signature,” Issa continued. “The buck stops with you.”
Issa’s letter demanded Weich “provide a complete list of individuals who helped” him draft the February 4 letter, along with “all communications, including emails, referring or relating to the development of DOJ’s response to Senator Grassley’s January 27, 2011, request for information.”
Issa gives Weich one week to provide the information, and requires him to comply with the request by no later than Wednesday, November 16, at 5 p.m. “Failure to comply with this request will leave me with no other alternative than the use of compulsory process to obtain your testimony under oath,” Issa adds.
During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Grassley pressed Holder on why he continues to risk being in contempt of Congress by refusing to comply with Issa’s subpoena. Grassley also noted that Holder has no legal basis for defying Congress.
“You’re refusing to provide drafts of that February 4 letter and emails about the drafts — even though they have been subpoenaed by the House — without a valid constitutional privilege, and that, of course, risks contempt of Congress,” Grassley told Holder. “Why would you risk contempt of Congress to prevent us from finding out who reviewed the drafts of that letter and whether they knew that they contained false statements?”
Holder said he and the DOJ will “certainly try to work with you and provide you with all the relevant information that we can,” but he would not promise to provide any extra information, even though a congressional subpoena legally requires Holder to do so.
“We will, however, act in a way that’s consistent with other attorneys general who’ve made determinations as to what information can be shared with congressional oversight committees — these are Republican as well as Democratic attorneys general,” Holder said. “I will act in a manner that’s consistent with the tradition and the history of the department.”
“Who will be held accountable,” Grassley asked, “for allowing a letter to Congress with a statement that many people in the Justice Department knew was false?”
“Again,” Holder concluded, “I have to dispute, with due respect, the assertion that people in the Justice Department knew [information in the letter] was false,” Holder said. “People in the Justice Department, who were responsible for the creation of that letter, again, relied on information provided to them that they thought was accurate.
Despite Breuer’s admission, Holder added: “We only know that the information was inaccurate in hindsight. At the time the letter was prepared it was thought the information was, in fact, correct.”