The chairman of a House committee investigating the failed "Fast and Furious" weapons operation in which hundreds of guns were "walked" to gun smugglers in Mexico says the panel will issue new subpoenas this week to ask Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. — again — what he knew about the investigation and when he knew it.
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says the release of new memos suggesting that Mr. Holder knew more about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-led (ATF) probe than he has admitted prompted the decision for a new round of subpoenas for the attorney general and other top Justice Department officials.
"What did they know and when did they know it," Mr. Issa said during an interview on Fox News confirming that the subpoenas would be released this week. "More importantly, we have to understand at what level did the authorization for the operation really come from."
Documents made public last week show that senior Justice Department officials discussed whether it would be wise for the head of the department's Criminal Division to attend press events about the ATF probe given the number of guns that ended up in Mexico. They also show that the attorney general's chief of staff took notes regarding operational details during a presentation on Fast and Furious in March 2010.
Other documents show that the connection between the guns found at site of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry in December 2010 and the Fast and Furious investigation was immediately briefed up to the level of the attorney general's chief of staff just two days after the agent's death.
"People at the top of Justice were well-briefed and knew all about it," Mr. Issa said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who also has been investigating the Fast and Furious operation, said through a spokeswoman the new documents raise as many questions as they answer about which senior department officials knew what about the investigation.
"In addition to these documents, getting at the truth also requires taking testimony from the key officials involved," spokeswoman Beth Levine said. "The attorney general's denials of any personal knowledge will have to be tested against all the evidence as our investigation continues, just as the department's initial denials were.
"The goals of Sen. Grassley's investigation, from the first time whistleblowers brought him the allegations of wrongdoing, has been to find out who approved a stupid program and to make sure it never happened again," she said.
After months of silence, the Justice Department responded late last week to the accusations that top officials knew about the operation, saying Republicans were playing a "political game of gotcha."
"Here they go again. Chairman Issa and Senator Grassley can re-package and re-release the same documents every other day and it won't change the facts: the attorney general's testimony to both the House and Senate committees has been consistent and truthful," the department said.
The department said new documents show only "brief" passages that were "buried in a few written reports" about the operation and did not detail the full extent of the investigation.
President Obama also voiced confidence in Mr. Holder and his handling of the Justice Department, saying the attorney general has been "very aggressive in going after gunrunning and cash transactions that have been going to these transnational drug cartels."
New controversy erupted last week with the discovery of a July 10, 2010, memo to Mr. Holder from Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), which specifically identifies the Fast and Furious operation, says when it began, names the federal law enforcement agencies involved, and identifies the major investigative targets.
The memo was sent to the attorney general 10 months before he told the House committee that he only learned of fast and Furious in late April or early May of this year.
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