At a public hearing Wednesday, members of the House Oversight Committee blasted former President Barack Obama and his attorney general for allegedly covering up an investigation into the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed as a result of the screwed up government gun-running project known as Operation Fast and Furious.
At the same time as the hearings, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) released a 250-plus page report chronicling the Department of Justice’s response under Attorney General Eric Holder to the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious. Not surprisingly, the report demonstrates that the department obstructed (and continues to obstruct) Congress and prevent Brian Terry’s family from learning the truth.
Fast and Furious is the name of the scandal where the “geniuses” high up in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the DOJ, and possibly the White House hatched a plan to allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arrest them. But the feds promptly lost track of the weapons, which were subsequently used commit crimes. One of those guns was used to murder Terry.
After news of the program began to emerge in 2010, the Obama administration did its damnedest to keep it under wraps. Finally as the House of Representatives was about to charge Holder with contempt of Congress for withholding documents about Fast and Furious, Obama tried to save the day by asserting executive privilege at the last moment. Congress found the AG in contempt anyway and U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was appointed to her position by President Obama, ruled that the president’s use of executive privilege was not legal.
Emails released in 2011 revealed that ATF big shots wanted to use the illegal gun sales in operation Fast and Furious to justify a new gun regulation called “Demand Letter 3”. The new rule would require U.S. gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or “long guns.” The fancy name, Demand Letter 3 comes from the fact that it would be the third ATF program demanding gun dealers report tracing information.
On Wednesday, Grassley testified before the House Oversight committee. Via Fox News:
“The Department of Justice and ATF had no intention of looking for honest answers and being transparent,” said Grassley, now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a staunch supporter of whistleblowers. “In fact, from the onset, bureaucrats employed shameless delay tactics to obstruct the investigation.”
One of those silenced ATF agents, John Dodson, testified Wednesday that he remains “in a state of purgatory” since objecting to Fast and Furious and has been the subject of reprisals and ridicule at the agency.
“That decision, the single act of standing up and saying, ‘What we are doing is wrong’… instantly took my standing from being that of an agent of the government – to an enemy of the state,” Dodson said. “ATF and DOJ officials implemented an all-out campaign to silence and discredit me… Suffice to say, the last six to seven years at ATF have not been the best for me or my career.”
The DOJ viewed the Terry family as a public relations nuisance and failed to provide them with answers regarding Brian Terry’s murder. Despite promises from Arizona-based DOJ officials and senior DOJ officials in Washington, D.C., documents show the Department did not make a genuine effort to keep the family informed or involved in the investigation and prosecution of their son’s murder.
From Grassley’s report:
- Page 76: “It is what we will have to expect from this woman (sic) and Terry’s brother for the rest of the case.” – Assistant U.S. Attorney John Evans in response to a news clipping where Brian Terry’s stepmother pleads for answers.
- Page 214: “USAO had . . . provided them with all information they are entitled to regarding the case … the Terry family is not a victim as defined by the CVRA [Crime Victims Rights Act].” – First Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Scheel in an email to Faith Burton, Special Counsel, DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs.
Remember when the Justice Department was allowed to investigate itself? That internal probe was largely a sham, and it prioritized politics and spin over public safety. The Department’s efforts focused on managing the day-to-day media cycle and protecting its senior political appointees rather than thoroughly investigating allegations of misconduct raised by whistleblowers. Documents show senior officials Justice conducted just a cursory inquiry and accepted information received from the ATF and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona at face value, despite these being the very offices responsible for the wrongdoing. As Grassley’s report state on page 82:
“Based on my conversation yesterday with the AUSA and Crim Chief, and based on prior conversations with Dennis Burke and with the ATF SAC, this investigation was conducted – and the decisions about when to seize guns were made – thoughtfully, carefully, and strategically” –Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein to a group of senior Justice Department officials on February 26, 2011, describing the extraordinarily limited scope of the Department’s internal investigation at that point.
The report also provides documented evidence that Holder managed key elements of the DOJ’s responses to Congress and to the media rather than focusing on managing DOJ’s law enforcement components. Additionally, there were no documents that demonstrate that the Attorney General ever devised a strategy to track down the more than 2,000 firearms lost along the southwest border. Nor are there any documents that demonstrate that Holder coordinated assistance for the Terry family. Instead, documents show Holder involved himself in only the political implications of the various milestone events throughout 2011, and was more concerned about his image than anything else:
- Page 201: “The AG wants both of you to stick around after the [daily staff meeting] each day to discuss the status of the ATF matter.” – Chief of Staff Gary Grindler email to Associate Deputy Attorney General Steve Reich and DOJ Office of Public Affairs Deputy Director Tracy Schmaler.
- Page 205: “Hit back HARD” – Attorney General Holder in response to The Washington Post’s coverage
- Page 225: “I don’t want to jinx it but it really is astounding that the plan worked – so far.” – Deputy Attorney General James Cole in an email to Attorney General Holder
- Page 237: “‘Holder briefed’!!!??? Scream at her.” – Attorney General Holder to Tracy Schmaler in response to coverage by CBS News.
The documents further reveal that senior Justice Department officials, including the attorney general, had disdain for the congressional oversight function. With support and direction from senior leaders, staff in DOJ’s Office of Legislative Affairs consistently deployed tactics to delay and withhold information from Congress.
- Page 116: “Much more likely it’s the reverse: we’ll provide only some and withhold a substantial number, and they concern not just the murder investigation but also the longstanding Fast and Furious investigation.” – DOJ Office of Legal Counsel Special Counsel Paul Colborn in an email discussing how DOJ would respond to requests from Congress.
- Page 117: “I am also reluctant to empower Grassley’s attempt as RMM [Ranking Minority Member] to conduct oversight by organizing a briefing.” – Paul Colborn email to DOJ colleagues.
- Page 167: “But there are important reasons for not giving Grassley everything he is asking for: it would embolden him in future fights and would ‘use up’ a lot of the material that we will eventually need to release to Issa . . . as the oversight struggle continues.” – Office of Legislative Affairs Assistant Attorney General Ron Welch in an email to DOJ colleagues.
Cross-posted at The Lid