Newly obtained Justice Department memos show that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was told about the controversial “Fast and Furious” weapons investigation as early as July 2010, apparently contradicting testimony he gave before a House committee in May saying he learned of the operation just weeks earlier.
A July 10, 2010, memo to Mr. Holder from Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), specifically identifies the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-led Fast and Furious operation, says when it began, names the federal law enforcement agencies involved, and identifies the major investigative targets.
The memo, sent to Mr. Holder through the office of the acting deputy attorney general, also notes that the operation involved a Phoenix-based firearms-trafficking ring and says “straw purchasers” were responsible for buying 1,500 firearms “that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels.”
The Walther memo also says the straw buyers had direct ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel, “which is suspected of providing $1 million for the purchase of firearms in the greater Phoenix area.” A straw buyer is someone who purchases a weapon for someone who is unable to buy it himself.
The memo, first reported by CBS News, prompted calls Tuesday from Capitol Hill Republicans for a special prosecutor and led the White House to claim Mr. Holder misunderstood the questions, rather than lied, during the May congressional testimony.
His comment came in response to a question from Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, who has been investigating the operation for several months and had asked the Justice Department on several occasions without success for more information.
“I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks,” Mr. Holder testified.
On Tuesday, Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called on President Obama to instruct the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to determine whether members of Congress were misled by Mr. Holder during his testimony on what he knew about Fast and Furious.
Mr. Smith said that in response to the committee’s ongoing investigation, the department recently provided documents that “raise significant questions about the truthfulness of the attorney general’s testimony.”
“The department’s consistent response to Congress has been that Operation Fast and Furious was a discrete law enforcement effort largely isolated to the ATF office in Phoenix,” he said in the letter. “These documents appear to undermine this claim and bring into question statements made by Attorney General Holder to this committee.
“Allegations that senior Justice Department officials may have intentionally misled members of Congress are extremely troubling and must be addressed by an independent and objective special counsel,” he said.
Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican and a former prosecutor and judge, said an independent prosecutor should be named to find out if government officials broke the law in the operation. During an interview on a National Rifle Association radio show, he described the operation as a “failed, idiotic idea,” during which at least one weapon was used to kill a U.S. law enforcement official.
“The more we learn, the worse it gets,” he said.
Justice Department officials have denied that Mr. Holder misled the committee, saying he did not understand Mr. Issa’s question during the May 3 hearing. They said the attorney general was not aware until this year of the specifics of the Fast and Furious investigation and did not know that weapons were being walked into Mexico.