Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Attorney General Eric Holder had a sharp back-and-forth on whether or not officials in the Department of Justice lied to Congress. The questioning was during Thursday morning’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on Operation Fast and Furious.
“First let me make something very clear, in response to an assertion you made, or hinted at: Nobody in the Justice Department has lied,” Holder said in response to accusations that he or his confidantes lied to Congress. “Nobody has lied.”
“Then why was the letter withdrawn?,” Sensenbrenner retorted, referring to a factually inaccurate letter one of Holder’s deputies, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, sent to Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley on February 4. In that letter, Weich claimed that guns were never allowed to walk.
Holder and one of his other deputies, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, have both admitted that statement was false in recent Senate hearings.
“The letter was withdrawn because there was information in there that was inaccurate,” Holder replied to Sensenbrenner’s question.
Still unsatisfied, Sensenbrenner followed up again. “Tell me what the difference is between lying and misleading Congress in this context?,” he asked Holder.
Holder responded that whether a statement is a lie or misleading comment depends on what the person making it is thinking at the time.
“If you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind, and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that can be considered perjury or a lie,” Holder said. “The information that was provided in that February 4 letter was gleaned by the people who drafted the letter after they interacted with people who they thought were in the best position to have the information.”
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 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.