Attorney General Eric Holder publicly asked House Speaker John Boehner, House oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley during a Tuesday morning hearing to meet with him privately about Operation Fast and Furious.
But the leading congressional investigators said a House subpoena from October 2011 is still pending and that the ball is in Holder’s court.
“I want to make it very clear that I am offering to sit down, by myself, offering to sit down with the Speaker, with the chairman, with whomever, to try to work our way through this in an attempt to avoid a constitutional crisis and come up with ways — creative ways, perhaps — in which we can make this material available,” Holder told Grassley on Tuesday. “But I’ve got to have a willing partner. I’ve extended my hand and I’m waiting to hear back.”
Later in the hearing, Holder amended his characterization of the DOJ’s standoff with Congress as a potential “constitutional crisis,” saying he should have called it a “constitutional conflict” instead.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told The Daily Caller on Monday that Boehner is willing to meet with Holder, but only after the attorney general first complies with congressional demands for documents related to the gunwalking scandal.
“The Speaker will meet with the Attorney General when the Attorney General complies with the reasonable, specific requests in the May 18 letter from House leaders and Chairman Issa,” Steel said in an email.
Issa’s spokesman Frederick Hill told TheDC that Holder’s public request for a meeting is a stonewalling tactic. (RELATED: Cornyn to Holder: ‘You violated the public trust’)
“As the committee has sought to accommodate the Justice Department’s concerns about documents that would affect ongoing prosecutions,” Hill said, “the attorney general needs show the same good faith by indicating what documents he is prepared to make available as a compromise and whether he is now prepared to drop his objections to delivering documents that do not affect prosecutions.”
“Discussions about Fast and Furious have been ongoing for nearly a year and a half,” Hill continued. “The Justice Department, however, did not express interest in reaching a workable solution until after the committee announced it had obtained detailed wiretap applications from a source and scheduled a vote on contempt. The Justice Department needs to demonstrate its interest in doing more than reciting old talking points.”
Grassley began his questioning of Holder on Monday by asking him about those wiretap applications. Issa and many other members of Congress have said they believe the documents prove several high-ranking officials in Holder’s inner circle were aware of gunwalking tatics used in Operation Fast and Furious, and gave approval of their use.
Holder and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking House oversight committee Democrat, have said they don’t think the wiretap applications documents show that.
But Grassley countered Monday that during closed-door testimony in July 2011, former Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson testified that those documents laid out gunwalking tactics in “alarming” detail. Grassley said that after Melson reviewed them in March 2011, “he immediately sent an email warning others, ‘back off the letter to Sen. Grassley in light of the information in the affidavits.’”
Grassley revealed Monday that congressional investigators asked Holder to turn over that Melson email in “July of 2011.”
The letter that was the subject of that email was a Feb. 4, 2011 statement to Grassley in which the DOJ said the Obama administration had never permitted guns to “walk” across the Mexican border. That statement was false; the DOJ withdrew the entire letter in December 2011.
But Melson’s secret deposition indicates that he knew the statement was false nine months earlier.
“We need to see it [the email] to corroborate his [Melson’s] testimony,” Grassley pressed Holder during Monday’s hearing. “But the Department is withholding that email along with every other document after Feb. 4, 2011. On what legal ground are you withholding that email? The president can’t claim executive privilege to withhold that email, is that correct?”
Holder maintained that “there is a basis for withholding these documents if they deal with the deliberative process” involved with ongoing prosecutions.
“But not on executive privilege?” Grassley asked.
“No,” Holder responded. “The tradition has always been that members of the Justice Department, whether they were led by Republicans or Democrats, withhold deliberative material,” Holder said.
Holder spokesperson Tracy Schmaler did not answer when The Daily Caller asked Monday whether Holder will turn over Melson’s email to congressional investigators.
In a statement released after Tuesday’s hearing, Grassley said that Holder “sounded willing to negotiate over releasing documents. That’s fine if the offer isn’t hollow,” he said. “We’ve been talking for a year and a half.”