Attorney General Eric Holder will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning, and he’s likely to face a barrage of tough questions from senators about Operation Fast and Furious.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee’s ranking minority member, is set to lead the charge against Holder, whose prepared testimony The Daily Caller obtained Monday. That prepared statement makes no mention of Holder’s May 3 House Judiciary Committee testimony, when he told Congress under oath that he had only known about Operation Fast and Furious for a few weeks.
Many members of Congress believe that May 3 answer Holder gave is either a lie or the product of incompetence. At least 36 have called for Holder’s immediate resignation.
Doubts about Holder’s truthfulness have arisen in part because Grassley previously told TheDC he personally handed Holder a letter about Fast and Furious months earlier. Senior aides also sent Holder numerous briefing memos on the subject, including the name and specific details of the failed operation, as early as July 2010. Holder now claims he didn’t read the memos.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also both discussed Operation Fast and Furious in media interviews about a month before Holder claims he knew of the gun-walking program. Two congressmen 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 own statements, unaware of the operation.
Grassley is likely to push Holder on these inconsistencies and possibly some others.
Congressional aides told reporters on Monday, too, that Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn plans to focus his line of questioning on reports of tactics similar to those used in Fast and Furious coming from a Texas ATF office.
According to one news investigation, ATF agents reportedly coaxed a Houston gun store, Carter’s Country, to sell weapons to suspected individuals 16 times. The individuals paid in cash and were usually buying large quantities of weapons at one time. According to Carter’s Country’s attorney, ATF agents didn’t show up to tail the suspected individuals on at least six of those 16 occasions — but still instructed store employees to carry on with the sales.
In early August, Cornyn wrote to Holder asking about the incidents and the congressional aides said Holder has yet to respond.
Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he plans to blame the Bush administration for gun walking tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver — a program similar to, but not the same as, Operation Fast and Furious. One major differences between Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver is that the Bush administration actually included the Mexican government in its law enforcement planning while the Obama administration has yet to brief Mexico’s Attorney General, at least as of late September. During the Bush administration, there were also far fewer weapons allowed to walk. Wide Receiver allowed about 200 weapons to walk whereas Fast and Furious allowed about 2,000 weapons to walk.
Another theme to watch for during the hearing is Democrats and Holder pushing a theory that lax gun control laws drove ATF agents to conduct Operation Fast and Furious. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein floated the idea during a hearing last week, even though it was the law enforcement agents responsible for upholding gun laws that facilitated the sale of weapons to drug cartels. Holder’s prepared testimony also mentions his belief that weak gun-control laws were a factor.
Holder will appear before Congress on December 8, in front of a joint House Judiciary Committee and House oversight committee hearing, again to testify about Operation Fast and Furious. Technically, Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is a general Justice Department oversight hearing but the focus is expected to be almost entirely on the gun-walking scandal.