The Obama administration appears to be attempting to defend Attorney General Eric Holder as the Justice Department dumped more than 650 pages worth of Operation Fast and Furious documents on congressional investigators late Monday.
There are two reasons why the timing of this release is significant: first, 28 members of Congress are currently calling on Holder to resign immediately. Second, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday — and this appears to be an attempt to divert pressure for Fast and Furious away from Holder.
The new documents, according to Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, “indicate that contrary to previous denials by the Justice Department, the criminal division has a great deal of culpability in sweeping the previous Wide Receiver strategy under the rug and then allowing the subsequent Operation Fast and Furious to continue without asking key questions.”
“Most importantly, officials raised very appropriate questions related to Operation Wide Receiver at the same time that many of these same officials were receiving briefings on Operation Fast and Furious,” Grassley said in a statement. “It begs the question why they didn’t ask the same important policy questions about an ongoing case being run out of the same field division.”
Operation Wide Receiver was a Bush administration program similar in nature to Operation Fast and Furious. In a statement he gave after the release of the new documents, Breuer took responsibility for not having learned from the mistakes made during Wide Receiver and implementing the failed tactics again under Fast and Furious.
“When the allegations related to Operation Fast and Furious became public earlier this year, the leadership of ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona repeatedly assured individuals in the Criminal Division and the leadership of the Department of Justice that those allegations were not true,” Breuer said. “As a result, I did not draw a connection between the unacceptable tactics used by the ATF years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver and the allegations made about Operation Fast and Furious, and therefore did not, at that time, alert others within Department leadership of any similarities between the two. That was a mistake, and I regret not having done so.”
The documents’ content — and Breuer’s admission of at least some guilt for the program — are likely to take center stage during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Grassley is the ranking Republican member, on Tuesday. It’s also apparently an attempt to divert pressure away from Holder — and onto Breuer — during the Tuesday hearing.
The documents haven’t been publicly released, as congressional staffers normally dig through them before publishing them for all to see. But, the document dump’s timing is peculiar as it happened just as a significant number of congressmen started rising against Holder, calling for his immediate resignation.
Heading into Monday morning, 17 members of Congress were calling for Holder’s immediate resignation. By the end of the day Monday, 11 more members joined the choir, bringing the total number of representatives who think Holder needs to resign to 28.
New members calling for Holder’s immediate dismissal as Attorney General of the United States include Republican Reps. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, Andy Harris of Maryland, Sam Graves of Missouri, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Ted Poe of Texas, Paul Broun of Georgia, Randy Hultgren of Illinois, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, John Culberson of Texas, Michael Grimm of New York and Mike Coffman of Colorado.
It’s unclear if the president or his spokespeople will even address the growing army of representatives who have no confidence in the attorney general. In fact, senior Obama communications staffer Eric Schultz, the same spokesman who verbally assaulted CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson for her Fast and Furious coverage, wouldn’t answer any of The Daily Caller’s requests for comment or more information. Schultz wouldn’t say whether Obama plans to ask Holder to resign or even acknowledge that there are 28 elected federal officials who think Holder should step aside.
Continuing to avoid answering any serious questions about Operation Fast and Furious, Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler also refused to address the growing number of members of Congress calling for her boss’s resignation. TheDC asked Schmaler if Holder will resign — and why she isn’t answering “no” when TheDC asks — several times over the past couple weeks, but she hasn’t responded.
Her continued lack of response means Schmaler and the DOJ may be leaving the door open to Holder’s resignation.
Congressman Coffman argues that it would be patriotic for Holder to resign now. “He is the U.S. Attorney General and it was under his watch that the failed ‘Fast and Furious’ program was both planned and executed and he owes it to the country and to the President to resign immediately,” Coffman told The Daily Caller.
Congressman Grimm, who served as a law enforcement agent in the FBI before running for Congress in 2010, said Operation Fast and Furious was Holder’s responsibility and his pattern of behavior put American law enforcement agents, American citizens and Mexican citizens at risk.
“As a former federal law enforcement agent, I take the rule of law very seriously, especially when it concerns the death of a federal agent,” Grimm said in a statement. “The mishandling of Operation Fast and Furious has not only put weapons — trafficked in from the U.S. — into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, but has cost a Border Patrol Agent his life. I find it unbelievable that Attorney General Eric Holder was unaware of the details of the operation, and even more incomprehensible that the straw purchases continued on his watch without notifying our counterparts in U.S. embassy in Mexico of the details.”
Referring to Holder’s May 3 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee when Holder likely misled Congress, Grimm added that Holder’s continued disregard for the truth in congressional oversight means he must resign. In that May 3 hearing, Holder said he had known of Operation Fast and Furious for only a few weeks, even though Grassley told TheDC he personally handed Holder a letter on the topic while the attorney general was in his office months earlier. Senior aides also sent Holder numerous briefing memos on the subject, including the name and intimate details of the failed operation, as early as July 2010. Holder now claims he didn’t read the memos.
Another reason it appears as though Holder lied to Congress on May 3 is that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both discussed Operation Fast and Furious in media interviews about a month before Holder claims he knew of it. Republican Reps. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Jason Chaffetz of Utah have asked Obama to clarify how he was able to speak about Operation Fast and Furious in a media interview while Holder was apparently, at least according to his claims, unaware of the operation.
These inconsistencies and Holder’s continued lack of full disclosure to congressional investigators are why Grimm says he’s calling for Holder to step down from his post in government now.
“Attorney General Holder has a repeated pattern of misleading members of Congress under oath, and Fast and Furious appears to be no exception,” Grimm said. “In this case, his claims don’t add up. As a consequence, I believe he has lost all credibility with Congress and the American people, which is why I am calling for his resignation.”
Congressman Graves, the chairman of the House Small Business Committee, is the second House committee chairman to call for Holder’s immediate resignation. He joins Florida Republican Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the House transportation committee, in calling for Holder to step down now.
Even if they aren’t calling for Holder to resign today, more members question Holder’s ability to be an effective attorney general. For instance, Republican Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri says Holder’s upcoming congressional testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on December 8 is likely his last chance to redeem himself — and if he doesn’t give a stellar performance, he’s not going to cut it anymore.
“Given the seriousness of the reported ‘gun walking’ operation and the apparent inconsistencies in Holder’s recounting of his involvement, barring any major revelation in his upcoming Congressional testimony, his resignation would go a long way in helping to restore credibility to the office he now holds,” Akin said in an email to TheDC.
Republican Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told TheDC he’s “withholding judgment” on whether he’ll call for Holder’s resignation until after the December 8 hearing, but he’s still concerned about Holder’s appearance of impropriety. “I think, let’s let him have his day before the committee before make a [call for resignation],” Coble said in a phone interview. “Now, I am troubled — I think some of the Attorney General’s responses may have in fact been laced with deception.”
Holder is likely to also face heat from senators soon. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who serves on the Judiciary Committee Breuer will testify before on Tuesday, previously told TheDC he’s interested in finding out all the facts about Operation Fast and Furious, and that he was perplexed as to why Holder was avoiding testifying again before Congress. Now, fellow Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison tells TheDC she’s got an eye on Holder too. She wants full and truthful answers and she wants them now.
“The Senator, who voted against Mr. Holder’s confirmation, has expressed her serious concerns to him about the Fast and Furious operation,” Hutchison’s spokesman told TheDC. “She feels that the Attorney General needs to give Congress a complete and thorough explanation of all he knows about this controversy. The time for half-answers is over.”
Other members who’ve called for Holder’s immediate resignation include: Republican Reps. Dan Burton, Allen West, Lynn Jenkins, Trent Franks, Tim Huelskamp, Mike Pompeo, Duncan Hunter, Devin Nunes, Dennis Ross, Vicky Hartzler, Raul Labrador, Quico Canseco, Blake Farenthold, Paul Gosar, Joe Walsh and Gus Bilirakis.
Holder had avoided talking openly about Operation Fast and Furious for months until Gosar told TheDC that administration officials responsible for the program could be considered “accessories to murder.” Holder finally spoke out on October 7, citing Gosar’s comments as the reason.