Issa: If Eric Holder is not ‘doomed,’ the Obama administration is

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa told The Daily Caller that if Attorney General Eric Holder isn’t “doomed” because of his handling of Operation Fast and Furious, the entire Obama administration is.

“If the [Obama] administration continues to have full confidence in a failed administration by Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, then ultimately the administration is going to be doomed,” Issa told TheDC during an interview in San Diego on Saturday. “Eric Holder seems to have the full confidence of the president, and I can’t understand why.”

Issa chairs the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, putting him in charge of the principal vehicle House Republicans use to investigate the Obama administration. The California Republican has developed a reputation inside the beltway as “Mr. Subpoena” — a bulldog investigator who forces results.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is also driving the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.

Issa’s comments about Holder’s fate, and President Barack Obama’s continued willingness to protect his scandal-plagued attorney general, come as 52 members of Congress are demanding Holder’s immediate resignation. One of those lawmakers is 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has also demanded Holder step down, as has National Rifle Association president David Keene.

Those calling for Holder’s resignation believe Holder is either incompetent or dishonest. His controversial appearances on Capitol Hill have led to speculation that he misled Congress about his knowledge of Fast and Furious, and about when he first learned of the failed gun-walking program.

Obama’s refusal to hold Holder accountable for Fast and Furious — along with his administration’s continued willingness to stonewall Congressional investigators — is taking a center stage heading into the 2012 election season. Texas Gov. Rick Perry finally addressed Fast and Furious for the first time on Friday. He stopped short of demanding Holder’s ouster, but his willingness to enter the fray may be a sign that Fast and Furious will be a political hot potato next year.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, both GOP presidential hopefuls, have also made veiled calls for Holder to step down from his position as America’s top law-enforcement officer. (RELATED: Full coverage of Attorney General Eric Holder)

Several members of Congress asking Holder to step down have indicated they believe Obama is “complicit” in Operation Fast and Furious if he fails to hold Holder accountable.

The White House and the Justice Department have continued to ignore the growing surge of lawmakers rendering what amounts to a no-confidence vote on Holder’s performance. That could change quickly with Issa, the House of Representatives’ top investigator, saying Holder may be “doomed.” While Democrats are staying silent on the matter, they have avoided defending the attorney general.

When the Obama administration has failed to respond to congressional requests for information, Issa has stepped in and served subpoenas. The first came on March 31, addressed to Holder’s DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). A second supboena, targeting Holder, came in early October.

Holder has refused to comply with several aspects of this latest subpoena, a reluctance that won’t sit well with Issa. After the DOJ failed to cooperate with Issa’s first subpoena, he held a June 13 hearing with the ominous title “Obstruction of Justice: Does the Justice Department Have to Respond to a Lawfully Issued and Valid Congressional Subpoena?”

After that mid-summer public showcase of what Republicans see as Holder’s ineptitude, the DOJ provided some, but not all, of the requested documents and information related to Fast and Furious. Similar hearings and public displays attacking Holder’s refusal to comply with subpoenas can be expected if Holder continues to stonewall Congress.

Holder is already attracting criticism for refusing to fully comply with Issa’s latest subpoena. During an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee this month, Holder refused to promise Grassley that he would provide documents and interviews related to a February 4 letter DOJ representatives sent the Iowa senator — a letter that contained false statements about guns the ATF allowed to “walk” across the Mexican border.

In that letter, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich claimed ATF doesn’t facilitate gun-walking. Weich wrote that the agency “makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”

But ATF agents and DOJ officials were, as a matter of policy, enabling the sale of firearms to drug cartels via “straw purchasers” — people who could legally buy weapons in the United States but did so with the intention of trafficking them into Mexico.

Both Holder and Assistant Atttorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the DOJ’s criminal division, have both acknowledged that Weich’s statement was false. Breuer also revealed he knew the statement was false at the time the letter went to Grassley. But since it’s unclear whether Breuer reviewed the letter before the DOJ sent it to Grassley, the false statement may not have technically amounted to perjury.

In order to determine if it did, Congressional investigators need to know who helped draft the letter, who reviewed and approved it, who provided Weich with the false information, and whether or not he or she knew it was false.

Issa has subpoenaed documents and witnesses in order to make that determination; under questioning from Grassley during a November hearing, Holder balked on the issue of whether he plans to comply with portions of Issa’s subpoena that are related to that part of the investigation.

“You’re refusing to provide drafts of that February 4 letter and emails about the drafts — even though they have been subpoenaed by the House — without a valid constitutional privilege, and that, of course, risks contempt of Congress,” Grassley told Holder. “Why would you risk contempt of Congress to prevent us from finding out who reviewed the drafts of that letter and whether they knew that they contained false statements?”

Holder replied that he and the DOJ will “certainly try to work with you and provide you with all the relevant information that we can,” but he did not promise to provide information demanded by congressional subpoena even though federal law requires his cooperation.

Holder declared only that the DOJ would “act in a way that’s consistent with other attorneys general who’ve made determinations as to what information can be shared with congressional oversight committees. These are Republican as well as Democratic attorneys general. I will act in a manner that’s consistent with the tradition and the history of the department.”

Information surrounding that February 4 letter is not the only part of Issa’s subpoena that Holder has resisted.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee executive business meeting shortly after that early November hearing, Grassley noted that Holder had refused to provide access to 11 witnesses who were subpoenaed for interviews.

“We have requested 12 Justice Department witnesses be made available for transcribed interviews,” Grassley said on November 10. “Despite the department’s promises of good faith cooperation, only one witness has been provided so far — former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke. The department has refused to schedule interviews with any of the other 11 witnesses. That’s not the good faith cooperation I was promised, and it is unacceptable.”

Holder’s May 3 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee also contained inconsistencies that have brought complaints from House Republicans. Issa and Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz both asked the attorney general when he first learned of Operation Fast and Furious. Holder told both he learned of the ATF program just a “few weeks” earlier.

Holder walked that testimony back during his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, a development which some in the GOP now say amounts to an admission that he misled Congress in May.

“I did say a ‘few weeks,’” Holder clarified during his Senate testimony, in response to questions from Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I probably could have said ‘a couple of months.’ I didn’t think the term I said, ‘few weeks,’ was inaccurate based on what happened.”

Leahy didn’t press Holder further. Leahy’s spokeswoman has not answered The Daily Caller’s requests for information about what the Democrat plans to do to hold Holder accountable for acknowledging that he misled Issa’s House committee.

The attorney general is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee again on December 8. During that hearing a cadre of Repubicans, including both Issa and Chaffetz, are likely to grill Holder about both his competence and his truthfulness.

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