Holder heading to House hot seat, Fast and Furious grilling on the way

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

On Thursday morning, Attorney General Eric Holder will appear before the House Judiciary Committee and he’s set to get grilled over Operation Fast and Furious.

Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program overseen by the Justice Department. The operation facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers. Straw purchasers are people who legally purchase guns in the United States with the known 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.

Holder first testified about Fast and Furious before the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, and then testified about it before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 8. This is Holder’s third major appearance before a congressional hearing on the operation, and second before the House, which Republicans control.

During the May 3 hearing, Holder claimed he had first learned of Fast and Furious just a “few weeks” before his appearance. Holder made that statement twice, to House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, and to Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Chaffetz and South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy wrote to President Barack Obama about Holder’s claims that he learned of Fast and Furious only a few weeks before that May 3 hearing. Gowdy and Chaffetz asked Obama specifically about comments he made during a March 22 interview with Spanish-language television network Univision. Obama said neither he nor Holder authorized Fast and Furious.

Because March 22 is more than a “few weeks” before the May 3 hearing where Holder twice made the statement, Gowdy and Chaffetz asked Obama how he could’ve known about the operation before Holder claims he knew. It’s unclear if Obama ever responded to Gowdy and Chaffetz. (RELATED: Full Fast and Furious coverage)

Chaffetz criticized Holder’s testimony as “less than candid” during an interview with TheDC in early October.

Holder has since walked back that “few weeks” comment, amending it to more of a “couple months.”

“I did say a ‘few weeks,’” Holder said on November 8, responding to a question from Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I probably could’ve said ‘a couple of months.’ I didn’t think the term I said, ‘few weeks,’ was inaccurate based on what happened.”

On another front, Issa is expected to press Holder to fire people at the Justice Department. “Chairman Issa intends to press Attorney General Holder on the need to clean house at tomorrow’s hearing,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill told TheDC on Wednesday.

It’s unclear who Issa thinks should be fired but his Senate counterpart, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, called for the resignation of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

Questions about Fast and Furious are likely to include several about Breuer’s relationship with Holder, and how intricately involved in Fast and Furious Breuer really was. Issa has also indicated that he’s interested in a DEA operation similar to Fast and Furious during which agents, according to The New York Times, laundered hundreds of millions of dollars to Mexican drug cartels. Issa wrote to Holder on Monday informing him he’s expanding his Fast and Furious investigation to include a look into what happened with the alleged DEA money laundering.

According to a Fox News report, Issa said that the hearing would be “the first time we’re expecting to see the real truth” about Fast and Furious.

“The first answer you get from this Justice Department doesn’t have a high credibility,” Issa said.

Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe, one of the 52 congressmen who have called for Holder’s immediate resignation and a member of the Judiciary Committee, told The Daily Caller he plans to focus on Holder’s inconsistencies in his claims that he didn’t read his briefing memos.

At this point, there’s still no concrete evidence Holder knew of Operation Fast and Furious. But, he was 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,” one 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, even though they were addressed to him personally.

Poe said Holder not reading “important documents” is one of the reasons he thinks Holder should resign. “He’s the man in charge, but yet he apparently doesn’t know what’s going on or he’s not qualified to be in charge,” Poe said in a phone interview.

Poe said Holder’s failure to read such important documents has become a “pattern” for the embattled attorney general. Poe compares this failure to read Fast and Furious documents to when Holder admitted to him during a Judiciary Committee hearing that he didn’t read the hotly contested Arizona anti-illegal immigration law back in May 2010.

“It is a pattern,” Poe said. “And, certainly, he shouldn’t be talking about the constitutionality of some state law when he hasn’t even read the bill. As a lawyer, he had no business even making comments about it. Now, he’s making comments about Fast and Furious, and his defense is, ‘I didn’t see a memo, if I got a memo, I didn’t read the memo.’”

“He’s a lawyer,” Poe continued. “He’s the chief lawyer in the United States. He probably should be reading important legal documents, whether it’s the Arizona law or whether it’s information regarding this Operation, the stealth operation the government sponsored in Mexico on Operation Fast and Furious.”

Another topic that will almost certainly come up is reports of politically opportunistic administration officials using Fast and Furious tragedies to further a gun control agenda. On Wednesday, CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson reported that newly surfaced emails indicate Obama administration officials discussing how they’d use Fast and Furious to push for a new multiple sales long gun reporting requirement.

Another interesting dynamic is going to be how Judiciary Committee Democrats handle the hearing. Most Democrats have remained relatively silent throughout the Fast and Furious investigation and the surge in calls for Holder’s immediate resignation, but some are finally talking.

On Tuesday, Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez said he’s not convinced Holder knew of Fast and Furious, but thinks the attorney general “should leave” if he did. He does, however, think Republicans are playing politics with the scandal. Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairman Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat, also thinks Republicans are playing politics.

Also on Tuesday, two other Democrats, New York Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Jose Enrique Serrano, admitted to TheDC that they weren’t aware of Fast and Furious until TheDC questioned them about it.

Late on Wednesday, Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan told The Daily Caller he thinks Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s death is a “real tragedy and I offer my sincerest condolences to his family, friends and co-workers.”

Brian’s mother, Josephine Terry, lives in Flat Rock, Michigan, which is in Dingell’s district. Brian Terry is buried in Dingell’s district.

“He died in service to our nation, and his family continues to be in my thoughts and prayers,” Dingell said. “I am a longtime supporter of individual rights to own firearms, and it is clear that Operation Fast and Furious was grossly irresponsible, but that is to be expected from ATF.”

Dingell isn’t calling for Holder’s resignation as attorney general, but does think Holder needs to answer tough questions.

“I wrote to President Obama on June 14, 2011 asking him to instruct DOJ and ATF to provide relevant information to Congress so we can have a clear sense of what actually happened,” Dingell said. “Just this week DOJ turned over 1,400 documents to the relevant Congressional committees in advance of Attorney General Holder’s testimony in front of the Judiciary Committee.  I, as well as many others, look forward to hearing Mr. Holder’s testimony.”

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