During a Thursday interview with Spanish-language television network Univision, President Barack Obama made at least one false statement about the Operation Fast and Furious scandal plaguing his administration.
As ABC News’ Jake Tapper noted, Obama incorrectly stated that the program began under the George W. Bush administration.
“I think it’s important to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program, begun under the previous administration,” Obama said.
But Fast and Furious began in October 2009, which Tapper pointed out is “nine months into the Obama presidency.”
White House Spokesman Eric Schultz told Tapper, “The President was referring to the flawed tactic of gun-walking, which despite Republicans efforts to politicize this issue, began under the previous Administration and it was our Attorney General who ended it.”
That Fast and Furious statement was not the only questionable one during the Univision interview. Obama suggested that an inspector general report released Wednesday cleared Holder of wrongdoing.
“When Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it,” Obama also said. “We assigned an inspector general to do a thorough report that was just issued — confirming that in fact Eric Holder did not know about this, that he took prompt action and that the people who did initiate this were held accountable.”
In the report, the Department of Justice inspector general determined that Attorney General Eric Holder “did not learn about Operation Fast and Furious until late January or early February 2011 and was not aware of allegations of ‘gun walking’ in the investigation until February.”
But Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz also said that he probably should have known about Fast and Furious as it was implemented.
“We found, as we outlined in the report, we struggle to understand how an operation of this size, of this importance, that impacted another country like it did, could not have been briefed up to the attorney general of the United States,” Horowitz said during a Thursday House oversight committee hearing. “It should have been, in our view. It was that kind of a case.”
In addition, the IG seemed to be at odds with Obama’s statement that Holder “held accountable” those who were responsible for Fast and Furious failures. The IG found that Holder’s senior leadership team inside the DOJ knew about key parts of Fast and Furious and did not consult with Holder. So far, Holder has not disciplined many of the senior Justice officials who knew about gunwalking.
“We determined that [now former acting Deputy Attorney General Gary] Grindler learned on December 17, 2010, of the link between weapons found at the Terry murder scene and Operation Fast and Furious but did not inform the Attorney General about this information,” the IG report reads. “We believe that he should have informed the attorney general as well as made an appropriate inquiry of [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] ATF or the U.S. Attorney’s Office about the connection. Grindler told us that he was relying on the FBI to investigate the homicide and that would include investigation of the weapons in question.”
On Jan. 3, 2011, Grindler was named Holder’s personal chief of staff — a promotion of sorts — after, according to the IG, he failed to tell his boss that knowledge he had of Fast and Furious.
Grindler remains as Holder’s chief of staff despite the IG’s criticism.
As for Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer — the head of DOJ’s criminal division — the IG report found that he learned in April 2010 “about Operation Wide Receiver and that ATF had allowed guns to ‘walk’ in that case.”
“Breuer told us that upon learning this information, he told Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein to talk to ATF leadership to make sure that they understood that the Criminal Division planned to move forward with the case, but that the investigation had used ‘obviously flawed’ techniques,” the IG report reads. “Given the significance of this issue and the fact that ATF reports to the deputy attorney general, we believe Breuer should have promptly informed the deputy attorney general or the attorney general about the matter in April 2010. Breuer failed to do so.”
Congressional investigators come down much harder on Breuer, many of them saying that he is responsible for a false letter that denied gunwalking being sent to Sen. Chuck Grassley on Feb. 4, 2011. The Obama administration has since withdrawn that letter.
Also, the IG report concluded that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein “was the most senior person in the department in April and May 2010 who was in a position to identify the similarity between the inappropriate tactics used in Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious.”
Though Weinstein has now resigned his position, it took more than a year-and-a-half and the release of the inspector general report for him to step down. During the time since Holder became aware of Fast and Furious — February 2011, according to the IG — and now, Holder was almost certainly aware of Weinstein’s role. Holder’s failure to take action over that time directly contradicts Obama’s statement that he took “prompt action.”
Others listed in the inspector general report have also not been disciplined.
Obama’s interview response that his administration has released “almost all of” the Fast and Furious documents is also questionable.
The Justice Department — despite having been subpoenaed by Congress — has provided just under 8,000 pages of Fast and Furious documents to congressional investigators. His administration provided more than 100,000 pages worth of documents to the internal DOJ inspector general, but the inspector general Horowitz testified before the House oversight committee on Thursday that the White House and Department of Homeland Security have refused to provide his team with documents and access to key Fast and Furious officials.
Holder and Obama withholding the tens of thousands of pages of documents from Congress is why some Democrats joined Republicans this summer and voted to hold Holder in criminal and civil contempt of Congress.
Obama also said that the documents he and Holder have kept from Congress “typically relate to internal communications that were not related to the actual Fast and Furious operation.”
Congressional investigators have no way of verifying Obama’s claims, since they have been denied access to the documents. In his Thursday testimony, Horowitz said all of the 100,000 pages were relevant to his investigation.
“Every document we asked for and reviewed and cited in this report we found to be relevant and important,” Horowitz told House oversight committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa near the beginning of the Thursday hearing. “And, in fact, we don’t cite in the report every relevant document. We obviously had to pick and choose. So certainly what we’ve seen, and we asked for and saw, we determined was relevant.”
Obama also said he thinks the IG report “was not a whitewash in any way,” but several members of the House oversight committee don’t necessarily agree.
Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a key Issa ally throughout the investigation, told Horowitz at Thursday’s hearing that he thinks “this is a wonderful report,” but that he’s convinced Horowitz “went a little soft on Lanny Breuer.”
South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy — another key Fast and Furious investigator — agreed with Chaffetz’s assessment that Horowitz was not critical enough of Breuer.
“The largest exception I take to your report is the same one Mr. Chaffetz had,” Gowdy said during the hearing. “Lanny Breuer was the Criminal Division chief.”
Florida Republican Rep. Sandy Adams — a former law enforcement officer — took her questioning of Horowitz’s treatment of Breuer a step further: “Your friendship with Mr. Breuer would not impact your decision-making on any of this, would it not?” Adams asked Horowitz.
Horowitz confirmed he has a personal friendship with Breuer, but denied that it had anything to do with his report or its findings. “It had zero impact,” Horowitz said. “When I took the oath to take this office, I took an oath to take this job and I as I committed before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the only thing that was going to make my decisions here were the facts and the law. Period.”
Obama’s comments may imply that they think that Holder is cleared. Horowitz, however, told the House panel, “There are pieces of this investigation that are ongoing, as we’ve reflected in the report.”