House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa told The Daily Caller that Attorney General Eric Holder owes an apology to the Mexican government and to the families of Operation Fast and Furious victims south of the border.
“Justice has blood on their hands,” Issa said Wednesday during an exclusive interview with TheDC, referring to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The attorney general, as the head of Justice, has to explain that to the families of survivors,” Issa said. “Yes, he should find a way to make it very clear to our neighbors to the south — at least to the government and at least publicly — that there needs to be deep regret for what happened and there needs to be reassurances that it never happens again.”
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 U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. At this point, the identities of the Mexican victims are unknown.
Both President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized to Terry’s family almost immediately. Napolitano attended Terry’s funeral with a letter from Obama in hand, and the president made an additional phone call expressing his condolences.
But Holder never apologized to Terry’s family until after Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn pressed him during a Nov. 8, 2011 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about why he had not done so. Holder finally wrote an apology letter to Terry’s family mere days later, but leaked it to Politico before Terry’s mother Josephine read it.
Florida Republican Rep. Allen West, one of the many members of Congress who think Holder should lose his job, called Holder’s decision to leak the apology letter “reprehensible.”
Issa said an apology similar to the one Josephine Terry finally received is the least Holder owes Mexico’s Fast and Furious victims.
“We can’t bring these people back to life,” Issa told TheDC. “But at least the kind of condolence that eventually came to Mrs. Terry is a minimum that people south of the border are demanding — and they have a right to.”
It’s unclear if Holder will actually apologize to the families of the victims in Mexico. DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, who former DOJ civil rights division attorney J. Christian Adams has dubbed Holder’s “spin mistress,” did not return a request for comment.
In addition to the hundreds of Mexican victims and Brian Terry, allegations have surfaced that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was also killed with Fast and Furious weapons. There is evidence suggesting that Zapata’s murder, like Terry’s, was connected to Fast and Furious. But Issa told TheDC that “we may never know if Jaime Zapata was murdered with Fast and Furious weapons.”
“But what we do know is that enough weapons were down there that inevitably more will die, both Americans and Mexicans,” Issa added. “And this program is the kind of program that will continue unless we get a change in how Justice views things, and certainly a change in how political appointees are viewing it.”
Terry was murdered more on Dec. 15, 2010 — more than a year ago — and Congress has been investigating Fast and Furious for most of that time. When TheDC asked, Issa didn’t offer a specific time-frame for the investigation’s conclusion. He did say, however, that the DOJ should begin to cooperate with Congress.
“This scandal can end as quickly as the Justice Department cooperates. We need to get the full facts,” Issa said. “We need to stop having people be, systematically, one after another, scapegoats, and simply say: ‘Hold people accountable.’ As you know, Lanny Breuer and others high in the administration have never answered the question of, ‘since they knew, why are they not being held accountable?'”
Issa added that Holder’s statements about what he knew of Fast and Furious, and when, have been inconsistent.
“Eric Holder said he didn’t know,” Issa said. “Then, he said he didn’t know quite as far back, but he’s never said where the accountability is in his office and his surrounding office. The people who prepared those memos that he didn’t read — are they accountable? Or, is it just acceptable to have the truth told to the attorney general and if he doesn’t read it, it won’t count?”
A total of 103 members of the House have either called for Holder’s resignation or firing, or expressed “no confidence” in Holder via a formal House Resolution, or both. The most recent members on that list, Reps. Kevin Yoder of Kansas and Randy Forbes of Virginia, signed on to Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar’s resolution of “no confidence” in Holder this week. Yoder also thinks it’s time for Holder to resign.
“I feel it is appropriate to call on Attorney General Holder to resign immediately due to his lack of judgment in his involvement in Operation Fast and Furious,” Yoder told TheDC. “I wanted to watch the hearings before jumping to conclusions in haste. Sadly, an American lost his life in this tragedy. Attorney General Holder needs to resign.”*
Two sitting governors, two U.S. senators and all the major Republican presidential candidates join those 103 congressmen.
Issa hasn’t called for Holder’s resignation, but he has hinted that he thinks Obama should remove him. During TheDC’s interview with him Wednesday, Issa reiterated that he thinks Obama should decide whether he trusts Holder to continue as the attorney general in the scandal’s wake.
“What I’ve said publicly is if it were my decision, I don’t have sufficient confidence in his ability to lead that organization,” Issa said. “So, that’s a decision for the president. I think the president should make that decision.”
Holder is scheduled to appear before Issa’s House oversight committee on Feb. 2. Though Holder has already testified before Congress three times about matters relating to Fast and Furious — twice before the House Judiciary Committee and once before the Senate Judiciary Committee — this is the first time Issa’s committee will have an opportunity to question Holder himself.
“The Judiciary Committee has multiple issues with the Attorney General,” Issa said. “We have one issue: the issue of breaking the law in order to enforce the law.”
“The oversight committee is investigating the Department of Justice, which is very different than his appearances before the Judiciary Committees in which they’re asking how things are going at Justice. What we’ve discovered in our investigations is a pattern of cover-up [and] delay. Ultimately Congress was given false information and now we’ve had people both resign and take the Fifth as we try to get to the basic elements of why and how was Congress lied to.”
Holder and the DOJ have ignored some significant portions of congressional subpoenas served on them by Issa’s committee, and the congressman did not rule out Contempt of Congress proceedings against Holder if he continues to withhold documents, witnesses and information.
Issa did say that he plans to follow the processes and procedures Congress uses before going down such a path.
“We have a process, and we respect that process,” Issa told TheDC. “The administration can disagree on whether something is covered by an executive privilege and we’ll go through the process of showing it’s not. We’ve been going through that process. We’re quite convinced that everything within our subpoenas are valid and that they need to be delivered.”
Issa said Fast and Furious is different from other Obama administration scandals, including the granting of loan guarantees to the failed solar power company Solyndra and the Obamacare waivers selectively granted to companies in the district of House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Unlike with those scandals, he said, Fast and Furious features an ongoing “cover-up.”
“Well, the administration has been trying to make it go away first by denying it, then by covering it up and delaying,” Issa said. “What makes this one different is the cover-up. Very much like Iran Contra and other scandals of the past, the initial action [was] illegal, wrong, foolish, dangerous and ultimately deadly, which is bad enough. But the cover-up, the denial, giving Congress a letter flat saying ‘we don’t let guns walk’ when there was a program in which the emails show they called it gunwalking — they knew it was gunwalking and ultimately, Americans and Mexican citizens have paid with their lives.”
The cover-up continues to this day, Issa said.
Issa issued yet another directive to Holder in writing Tuesday, excusing the Arizona-based senior DOJ official Patrick Cunningham from appearing before his committee for a deposition, because Cunningham had already announced his intention to plead the Fifth Amendment the entire time.
“Although I was willing to excuse Mr. Cunningham from today’s deposition, I have reserved the right to authorize another subpoena for his testimony at a future date,” Issa wrote to Holder Tuesday. “Due to Mr. Cunningham’s recent actions, the Committee will be making further document requests of the Department. I expect nothing less than the Department’s full and complete compliance with these requests.”
*Update: Kansas Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder called for Holder’s resignation in an email to TheDC after this story was published. He had already signed onto House Resolution 490 — the official resolution of “no confidence” in Holder — before publication.