Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has led the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious with House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, called for Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer to step down immediately.
Breuer, the head of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, is Attorney General Eric Holder’s top deputy.
“I have been investigating … Operation Fast and Furious for almost 11 months now,” Grassley said on the Senate floor on Wednesday, according to prepared remarks. “It is past time for accountability at the senior levels of the Justice Department. That accountability needs to start with the head of the Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer.”
Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program overseen by the DOJ. The operation facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers. Straw purchasers are people who can legally purchase guns in the United States with the intention of illegally trafficking them into Mexico.
At least 300 people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Grassley said he thinks it’s “time for [Breuer] to go,” because he was involved in providing false information to Congress about gun walking.
“The Justice Department denied in a letter to me on February 4, 2011 that ATF had ever walked guns,” Grassley said. “Mr. Breuer had been consulted in the drafting of that erroneous letter.”
“On May 2, 2011, rather than acknowledging the increasingly obvious facts and apologizing for its February letter, the Justice Department reiterated its denial,” Grassley continued. “Thus, when the Justice Department revealed on October 31 of this year that Breuer had known as far back as April 2010 about gun walking at ATF, I was astounded.”
Breuer had known about gun walking occurring during the Bush administration, which employed a program similar to Fast and Furious called Operation Wide Receiver. Evidence that has come out during Grassley and Issa’s congressional investigation into Fast and Furious has shown that Breuer has known about gun walking occurring since April 2010.
“For 18 months, the embarrassing truth about ATF gun walking in Wide Receiver — and Breuer’s knowledge of it — was successfully hidden,” Grassley said. “It only came out because of the congressional investigation into gun walking in Fast and Furious. The public outrage over Fast and Furious comes from average Americans who cannot understand why their own government would intentionally allow criminals to illegally buy weapons for trafficking to Mexico.”
At this point, there’s still no concrete evidence Holder knew of Operation Fast and Furious. He was, however, sent briefings that contained intimate details of the operation.
“This investigation [Fast and Furious, which is named in the memo] — initiated in September 2009 in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Phoenix Police Department —involves a Phoenix-based firearms trafficking ring headed by Manuel Celis-Acosta,” the memo addressed to Holder reads,“Celis-Acosta and straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels. They also have direct ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, which is suspected of providing $1 million for the purchase of firearms in the greater Phoenix area.”
Holder claims he didn’t receive and didn’t read the memos, though they were addressed to him personally.
Grassley made clear, too, that the investigation won’t end with a Breuer resignation and that he plans to continue digging to find more of the truth surrounding Fast and Furious.
“Just last night, the Justice Department sent a letter refusing to provide several Justice Department staff for transcribed interviews,” Grassley said. “The letter explicitly goes back on the assurances I received when I consented to proceed with the confirmation of three senior Justice Department officials. One of my conditions for agreeing to proceed with those nominations was that officials who agreed to voluntary interviews in this investigation would have either a personal lawyer present or a department lawyer present, but not both.”
“I personally met with the attorney general and he had that condition listed on a piece of paper in front of him,” Grassley added. “It looked as if he had read it and was familiar with it, yet he never objected to that condition. Dozens of witness interviews have been conducted under that understanding with no problem. The only difference now is that instead of ATF witnesses, we are now seeking to interview Justice Department witnesses.”
Grassley said that if Holder continues to refuse to comply with congressional requests for information and keeps blocking witnesses from appearing for transcribed interviews, he’s “confident” Issa will use his subpoena power to force his compliance from the House of Representatives.