A largely overlooked exchange from Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing includes what appears to be an admission from Attorney General Eric Holder that emails to and from him about Operation Fast and Furious may exist, and that he’s refusing to provide them to Congress.
The possibility was first addressed during an exchange with House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, who also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, early in the hearing.
“Most of the 5,000 documents you turned over are emails,” Issa said to Holder. “Mr. Attorney General, I have a question for you. Not one of these emails, in fact, is yours. Aren’t you a prolific emailer?”
Holder responded that, “No,” he is not a “prolific emailer.”
Issa followed up: “Don’t you email?”
Holder responded in the affirmative. “Do you have a personal email account as well as an attorney general email account?” Issa pressed.
“I have an email account at the Justice Department, yes,” Holder equivocated.
“Do you have a personal email?” Issa asked again. Holder replied that, “yes” he has a personal email account.
“Do you regularly email to Lanny Breuer, your former partner, and your criminal division head?” Issa then asked.
“I wouldn’t say regularly,” Holder answered. “But there are only a limited number of people who know my email address in the Justice Department.” (RELATED: Full coverage of Operation Fast and Furious)
Issa, still not satisfied with Holder’s response, pressed further. “Let’s cut to the chase,” Issa said. “Don’t you think it’s a little conspicuous that there’s not one email to or from you related to Fast and Furious in any way, shape or form?”
Instead of answering whether or not there were any emails to or from him, Holder said the Department of Justice’s document production to the House oversight committee had been “unprecedented.”
“There are a variety of reasons why the emails we have shared with you are there,” Holder said. “We have shared in an unprecedented way emails and information that no Justice Department and no attorney general has ever authorized before. You have deliberative information contained in that.”
Issa has issued subpoenas and made official requests for many of the emails Holder has withheld from Congress. Because Holder isn’t citing any legal or constitutional exemption, Issa said later in the hearing that he “stands in contempt of Congress” if he continues to stonewall.
“But isn’t it true that executive privilege does not flow to the attorney general, only to the office of the president?” Issa asked during that initial exchange. “So, deliberate process within law enforcement, in your department, in fact, doesn’t deserve executive privilege. As the chairman said going on, you haven’t cited any reason why these have not been delivered.”
Holder continued to avoid the line of questioning, and said that he’s provided an “unprecedented” amount of documents to Congress. But, he still wouldn’t cite a legal reason why he’s refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas and requests.
“In making production determinations, we have followed what attorneys general in the past have always used — applicable standards, whether these are Republican or Democrat attorneys general,” Holder said. “The information we’ve provided you has been responsive, has been, I think, wholesome and also unprecedented.”
In a later exchange Holder had with Florida Republican Rep. Sandy Adams, Holder all but said he has used his personal email account to communicate with Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and his former deputy attorney general and now chief of staff, Gary Grindler, about Fast and Furious.
“You have a personal email account. Did you at any time, at any time, email on your personal account with Lanny Breuer and Gary Grindler with regards to Fast and Furious — ever?” Adams asked Holder. “Yes or no?”
“I don’t know,” Holder responded.
“Would you check and get back with us?” Adams further pressed Holder. “If you need some help, I’m sure your agency personnel can get into those computers.”
Holder then tripled down on his claims that the DOJ has provided “unprecedented” levels of documents to Congress, but refused to cite a legal reason why he won’t give up the emails, if they exist.
“Well, with regard to the provision of emails, I though I made clear that after February 4, it is not our intention to provide email information consistent with the way in which the Justice Department has always conducted itself,” Holder said in response to Adams’ questioning. “The exception that I made — that I made in the hope that the Justice Department would be seen as transparent — was to go against that tradition to make available deliberative material around the February 4 letter.”
During an interview with The Daily Caller on Friday, during which Adams called for Holder’s resignation over the Fast and Furious scandal, she said that if Holder hasn’t misled Congress and has nothing to hide, he should deliver the communications.
“I do, I truly do [think Holder should provide those emails],” Adams told TheDC. “If there were a part of anything to do with Fast and Furious, he should release those. As I said to him, if you have clean hands, why won’t you release them?”
Adams added that Holder’s claim that his document production has been “unprecedented” doesn’t appear to hold much legal weight, and doesn’t really matter if he’s refusing to comply with lawfully issued congressional subpoenas.
“I wouldn’t think so [that Holder’s claims his document production has been ‘unprecedented’ is enough],” Adams said in a phone interview. “What’s unprecedented is the fact that we have an attorney general who was allowing guns to walk across international borders. As a matter of fact, walking [guns] anywhere is bad, but it’s compounded because they walked across international borders.”
Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program overseen by the DOJ. The operation facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers. Straw purchasers are people who legally purchase guns in the United States with the known intention of illegally trafficking them somewhere else. In Fast and Furious, the straw purchasers were known to be trafficking the weapons into Mexico, effectively arming Mexican drug cartels.
At least 300 people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.