Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson accused the tea party movement and the National Rifle Association of creating an “manufactured” controversy over Operation Fast and Furious Thursday.
Johnson’s comments came during an interview with The Daily Caller outside the House Judiciary Committee hearing room. Attorney General Eric Holder was testifying before the committee about Fast and Furious — a Justice Department program where Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents facilitated the sale of about 2,000 guns to Mexican drug cartels.
“I think this is another manufactured controversy by the second amendment, NRA Republican tea party movement,” Johnson said.
Johnson sung a different tune during the hearing, though, comparing the scandal to what he considers a surge in illegal gun sales to criminals.
After asking Holder for the specific number of guns the Justice Department and ATF helped smuggle into the hands of drug cartels — to which Holder responded there were about 2,000 — Johnson alleged that the “gun show loophole” was far worse.
“Now, how many firearms are sold to al-Qaida terrorists, to other convicted felons, to domestic violence perpetrators, to convicted felons, to white supremacists?” Johnson asked Holder. “How many unlicensed gun dealers, or let’s say, how many weapons, how many assault rifles let’s just say in a given year are sold to such individuals by unlicensed gun dealers at these gun shows and how many of those end up walking away to Mexico? Can you give us a number on that?”
“I don’t have a number on that,” Holder said, offering to try to figure out later for Johnson what the exact number was.
“Would it be more than a couple of hundred?” Johnson followed up, likely meaning to say a couple “thousand” because his reference was in the context of Fast and Furious.
Though Holder previously admitted to Johnson he didn’t have those statistics, he played into the argument without the facts.
“I’m pretty certain it’d be more than 2,000, but in terms of getting those numbers to you, I can try to do that after the hearing,” he said.
Johnson also claimed that the Senate is to blame for operations like Fast and Furious because it’s been almost six years since Congress’ upper chamber confirmed a presidential nominee as the head of the ATF.
“Over the past five and a half years, we’ve had five acting directors of the ATF,” Johnson said. “The Senate’s failure and refusal to confirm a nominee for that important agency. What affect does that have on the ability of that agency to be guided in such a way so we can avoid situations like Fast and Furious?”
“I think that’s actually a very good point,” Holder said. “When you have a confirmed head, there’s a certain prestige that goes with that demarcation. But, beyond that, it allows a person to have a longer term and a certain consistency to put in place the programs, put in place controls that don’t exist and allowed Fast and Furious to happen.”
Johnson finished off his questioning by commenting that he thinks conservatives are systematically trying to prevent the ATF from functioning. “I think the NRA and other Second Amendment rights radicals have confidence that the U.S. will not have a competent ATF head,” he said.
House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, was up next in questioning and struck back at Johnson’s inflammatory rhetoric. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t take exception to calling the NRA members, millions of them, radicals,” Issa said. “I think that’s an offensive statement and that it’s beneath this committee.”
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Videography by Direna Cousins