Justice Department snipes back at Issa, Grassley

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Attorney General Eric Holder’s deputies hit back at allegations of investigation stonewalling made by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, late Wednesday.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich accused Issa and Grassley of ginning up controversy and claims their allegations of the Department of Justices ’s transparency failure aren’t true.

Weich’s July 6 letter was an official DOJ response to Grassley’s and Issa’s July 5 letter to Holder detailing the key findings from a secret transcribed interview with acting ATF director Ken Melson on July 4.

“We are puzzled by your criticism of the Department for its efforts to facilitate the Committee’s access to documents and witnesses,” Weich wrote. “Indeed, those concerns seem flatly inconsistent with statements that Chairman Issa has made on this subject in the recent past.”

Weich goes on to cite a comment from Issa at a June 15 hearing, when he said the DOJ had a “breakthrough” when it came to producing documents and other information.

“Yet, just a few weeks later and notwithstanding the Department’s continuing production of documents, that ‘breakthrough’ has been re-characterized as an effort to prevent the Committee from receiving the information it requested,” Weich wrote.

A key takeaway from Melson’s secret July 4 testimony is that the acting ATF director told investigators about the existence of a number of new documents and many more pieces of information he said the administration is withholding. Also, the top Congressional Republicans said Melson told their investigative team that senior Justice Department officials in the Obama administration were attempting to prevent him from testifying or helping Congress find the facts about Operation Fast and Furious.

Another key takeaway from the secret testimony were that Melson acknowledged to investigators that agents had witnessed transfers of weapons from straw purchasers to third parties without following the guns afterwards. Straw purchasers are people who could technically legally buy guns in the U.S. but their intent was to turn around and sell them to drug cartels in Mexico.

Issa and Grassley also say Melson clarified for investigators was that the ATF group carrying out the mission of Operation Fast and Furious was placed under the direction of the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office. The U.S. Attorney in Arizona, Dennis Burke, is a political appointee of the Obama administration.

In addition to attacking Issa and Grassley for their transparency criticisms, Weich contends the top Congressional Republicans “fail[] to note” that Melson conducted a non-transcribed three-hour interview with investigators on July 3, a day before he conducted his testimony without DOJ officials present. Weich also jabbed Issa and Grassley for accusing the Justice Department of not informing Melson he had a right to testify without DOJ officials appearing with him.

“We believe that Acting Director Melson was aware of his right to private representation,” Weich wrote, adding that lower-level ATF employees have requested legal representation from private counsel. “[I]t seems unreasonable to suppose that Mr. Melson did not did not understand what appears quite clear to his subordinates.”