Politics
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. (Flickr) Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. (Flickr)  

Issa: Holder should reform law-enforcement agencies or quit

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

The Operation Fast and Furious scandal demands a reform of federal agencies or the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder, says Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“I’m asking the President to stop having full confidence in Eric Holder unless Eric Holder can start having full confidence in an array of [administration] people who are part a problem that has not yet really been fixed,” Issa said at a press breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Holder should “stay there and fix it, or go,” he said.

However, “that’s not for me to decide. That’s for the president to decide,” he added.

Issa’s position bolsters his role as evenhanded chairman of the committee which is now investigating the controversial, tangled, multi-agency Fast and Furious gun-walking operation.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) program facilitated the purchase of more than 1,000 firearms from U.S. gun stores, and their delivery to Mexican drug gangs. Hundreds of Mexicans are believed to have been killed by the smuggled guns. One U.S. Border Patrol officer, Brian Terry, was killed on U.S. soil by a group of Mexican gangsters armed with two of the Fast and Furious firearms.

Fifty-two House legislators and two senators have called for Holder to resign, following more than a year of administration stonewalling and misleading congressional testimony.

In mid-November as several members of Issa’s committee demanded Holder’s ouster, Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks decried “the idea of ‘We’re going to wait for a subpoena, then we’re going to send you some of the documents, we’re going to withhold some others, tell us exactly what you want — if you find it first, then we’ll tell you if we have it,’” The Department of Justice’s stonewalling “is something they continue to do, stringing along, and with all this — keep this in mind — the guns are still out there,” Franks said.

On Nov. 29, Holder blamed the Daily Caller for the legislators’ demands. “You need to stop this. It’s not an organic thing that’s just happening. You guys are behind it.”

Issa, however, said he is still investigating the failed ATF program and its aftermath, and is pressing for reforms rather than demanding Holder’s immediate resignation. “We’re in the process of working through the cover-up.”

“We’re going to demand the facts, we’re going to hold people accountable for delivering false information. … The rest of the [committee’s] actions creates the broad demand for [government] reform,” he said.

“Eric Holder did not order this, as far as we know or even suspect,” Issa said. “He didn’t order this operation, he didn’t demand [officials] somehow do something this stupid,” he said.

What matters now, Issa said, is “are we going to fix this so the system protects against this again?”

Reporters, he said, should press Holder to describe his proposed reforms, asking, “’What have you done to prevent this happening ever again? … what are you doing, if you will, to put this behind you, if appropriate, with the termination of people, whether they are career people or political appointees?’”

However, Issa also highlighted some very controversial aspects of the Fast & Furious operation, and its subsequent cover-up.

“The [administration’s] information that was delivered both by letter and in sworn testimony before our committee was delivered by a legislative liaison who was simply, completely inaccurate,” he said. “Either he was lying, or he deliberately didn’t know what he didn’t want to know, or others deliberately made sure the briefing he brought to us was inaccurate. … The system has to change to where there is zero tolerance for that.”

When questioned by a reporter from the Spanish-language Univision network, Issa noted that “the bigger scandal is that men and women have been killed in Mexico, despite Brian Terry appropriately being on the front pages.”

The scandal reaches far beyond the ATF, which oversaw the sale and transport of guns to the Mexico border, but whose employees also helped reveal the scandal, he said. Other agencies involved include the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, he said. “This is not the first time that FBI had been involved in an investigation in which bad people are allowed to do bad things in the name of going after bad people.”

The scandal and investigation, said Issa, “is not about any one person. … It’s about a failure that seems to be pervasive in the Department of Justice.”

Follow Neil on Twitter