DOJ official plans to plead the Fifth, refuse to testify on Fast and Furious

David Martosko Executive Editor
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Department of Justice official Patrick Cunningham has reportedly planned to plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself in response to a subpoena House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa served him that will compel him to appear before Congress about Operation Fast and Furious.

Cunningham has been the chief of the criminal division of the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix for the past two years. In subpoenaing Cunningham, Issa said he has information indicating Cunningham helped approve gun walking as an acceptable tactic under the Obama administration’s DOJ.

Cunningham, according to Issa, has repeatedly refused to testify before Congress about Fast and Furious. Now that he’s been subpoenaed and announced that he’ll plead the Fifth Amendment, this signals the first time an official in President Barack Obama’s and Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice has refused to testify over Operation Fast and Furious on the basis that he or she may admit to committing a crime.

Issa said that Cunningham’s plan to plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself over his role in Operation Fast and Furious is a sign that there’s serious politically-motivated foul play going on within the Justice Department.

“The assertion of the Fifth Amendment by a senior Justice official is a significant indictment of the Department’s integrity in Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa said. “The former head of the ATF has previously told the committee that the Justice Department is managing its response to Operation Fast and Furious in a manner designed to protect its political appointees.  This is the first time anyone has asserted their Fifth Amendment right in this investigation and heightens concerns that the Justice Department’s motivation for refusing to hand over subpoenaed materials is a desire to shield responsible officials from criminal charges and other embarrassment.”

Issa adds that this latest development suggests that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder may be complicit in covering up Fast and Furious information and documents, preventing Congress from getting to the truth.

“Coming a year after revelations about reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious were first brought to light, the assertion of the Fifth Amendment also raises questions about whether President Obama and Attorney General Holder have made a serious and adequate response to allegations raised by whistleblowers,” Issa said. “Did Attorney General Holder really not know a senior Justice Department official fears criminal prosecution or is this just another example of him hiding important facts?  The committee will continue to demand answers.”

Sixty-two congressmen, two senators, two sitting governors and every major Republican presidential candidate have demanded Holder’s ouster over the scandal. And 89 congressmen have signed a House resolution of “no confidence” in Holder as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Between the two lists, which don’t perfectly overlap, 100 members of the House have “no confidence” in Holder, believe he should resign, or both.

The latest members to sign the “no confidence” resolution, according to the office of the bill’s sponsor Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, are Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey, Michael Burgess of Texas and John Kline of Minnesota, the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Fast and Furious was a program of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, overseen by Holder’s DOJ. It sent thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers — people who legally purchased guns in the United States with the known intention of illegally trafficking them somewhere else.

At least 300 people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The identities of the Mexican victims are unknown. Allegations have surfaced that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was also killed with Fast and Furious weapons.

Cunningham is resigning on Jan. 27 to take a job in the private sector. It’s unclear if his resignation has anything to do with Fast and Furious.

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