The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating the Justice Department's "Fast and Furious" weapons probe for several months, issued a sweeping subpoena Wednesday for documents involving key department officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and more than a dozen of his top deputies.
Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, said the Justice Department's top echelon of officials "know more about Operation Fast and Furious than they have publicly acknowledged," adding that the documents now being sought "will provide answers to questions that Justice officials have tried to avoid since this investigation began eight months ago.
"It's time we know the whole truth," Mr. Issa said, adding that a handful of documents recently obtained suggest that Mr. Holder knew more about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-led (ATF) probe than he has admitted — prompting the decision for a new subpoena for the attorney general and other top Justice officials.
The newly-obtained documents suggest Mr. Holder received briefing papers on Fast and Furious dating back to July 2010, although the attorney general told the House Judiciary Committee in May he only recently learned of the operation.
During a Tuesday press conference on a suspected Iran-tied terror plot, Mr. Holder — anticipating the release of the House subpoena — said the Justice Department would review it and "I'm sure we will undoubtedly comply with them."
He has denied that any reports sent to his office showed that he had knowledge of the Fast and Furious operation. He said he took "decisive action" when he learned earlier this year about it, ordering the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General to investigate the matter.
"What I want the American people to understand is that in complying with those subpoenas and dealing with that inquiry, that will not detract us from the important business that we have here to do at the Justice Department, including matters like the one that we have announce today," he said.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said that while Fast and Furious was a "terrible mistake with tragic consequences," he called the subpoena "a deep-sea fishing expedition" and a "gross abuse of the committee's authority."
He said tens of thousands of pages of highly sensitive law enforcement and national security materials being sought are completely unrelated to Fast and Furious. "Rather than legitimate fact-gathering, this looks more like a political stunt," he said.
More than 2,000 weapons were purchased by "straw buyers" at gun shops in Phoenix during the Fast and Furious investigation, most of which were illegally "walked," or taken, into Mexico and turned over to Mexican drug smugglers. Two of the weapons, both AK-47 assault rifles, were found at the scene of the December 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry.
The new subpoena not only names the Justice Department's highest ranking officials, but seeks Fast and Furious information from a number of other federal agencies including the White House, ATF, the FBI, the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix, and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) in Phoenix,
Justice Department officials named in the documents, among others, include Mr. Holder; former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden; former Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler; Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer; and Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich.
The subpoena also seeks documents concerning the ATF's failure to interdict the weapons, those showing when the agency broke off surveillance of them, and others describing when ATF became aware that those weapons had entered Mexico.
It also seeks documents concerning the shooting death by Mexican drug smugglers of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata. Assigned to an attache office in Mexico City, Zapata was killed in February and his partner, Victor Avila, was wounded when their vehicle was ambushed on a major highway between Mexico City and Monterrey.
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