Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed Thursday to a House panel that President Barack Obama’s White House obstructed his investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
The administration has also been accused of stonewalling the congressional investigation into the scandal.
“As we noted in the report — and, as you know, Congressman, we did not get internal communications from the White House — and Mr. [Kevin] O’Reilly’s unwillingness to speak to us made it impossible for us to pursue that angle of the case and the question that had been raised,” Horowitz testified in response to questioning from Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold during a House oversight committee hearing.
In the report, Horowitz’s team wrote that “[t]he White House did not produce to us any internal White House communications.”
Horowitz’s report said the Obama administration justified its non-cooperation with the inspector general by claiming the production of White House documents was “beyond the purview of the Inspector General’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Department of Justice programs and personnel.”
Kevin O’Reilly, a now-former White House official who was reassigned to a State Department detail in Iraq after Fast and Furious became a national scandal, also refused to cooperate with Horowitz’s investigation.
O’Reilly, a National Security Council official who was directly involved in Operation Fast and Furious through his frequent communications with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) official Bill Newell, refused through a lawyer to cooperate with Horowitz’s investigation, according to the inspector general’s. Newell was the lead agent on Fast and Furious in his capacity as the head of the Phoenix ATF office.
Farenthold asked Horowitz if Congress should pursue O’Reilly’s testimony and press for tens of thousands of documents the White House withheld from Congress and the inspector general further.
“Well, certainly we have sought to pursue every lead we could,” Horowitz replied. “I can just tell you from our standpoint it was a lead we wanted to follow.”
House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa said during the hearing that the White House has resisted his committee’s efforts to serve a subpoena on O’Reilly to compel his testimony.
Horowitz told Issa that because O’Reilly is no longer a DOJ employee and works in another cabinet department, he couldn’t require the interview.
“We reached out to his lawyer and requested an interview,” Horowitz explained. “We have no basis to compel an interview from individuals who are outside the Department of Justice. He does not work in the Department of Justice so we had to ask for a voluntary interview, and he denied: His lawyer told us he would not appear voluntarily.”
Horowitz said Department of Homeland Security also impeded his investigation, citing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent “who was assigned to Operation Fast and Furious on a full time basis [but] declined our request for a voluntary interview.”
That ICE agent, he added, requested immunity from prosecution and declined to be interviewed unless it was granted.
“There was an agent from the Department of Homeland Security that was assigned to the operation,” Horowitz said during Thursday’s hearing. “As part of our effort to be thorough and interview all people who might have relevant information, we reached out. He, again, is outside the Department of Justice, so he declined our voluntary request to be interviewed by us.”
“We sought through the Department of Homeland Security to speak to him, and we understood that, absent being compelled — and given immunity — that he would not speak voluntarily. That request was declined, is my understanding.”