Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, praised on Friday the inclusion of special provisions in the proposed 113th Congress rules package that will keep in place legal obligations on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and others at the Justice Department as a result of Fast and Furious subpoenas issued in the 112th Congress.
The inclusion in the House rules will allow a civil lawsuit, authorized by a bipartisan vote of the House in July 2012, to continue. Without the provisions, the Justice Department could have argued that its obligation to produce subpoenaed documents expired with the previous Congress. The lawsuit seeks the federal court to compel the production of the records.
“These provisions in the 113th Congress rules package ensure that the civil suit authorized by the House of Representatives with the support of twenty-one Democratic representatives will move forward,” said Mr. Issa.
“The Justice Department has still not met its legal obligations to turn over documents showing why it waited ten months to formally retract false denials of reckless tactics in Operation Fast and Furious and why it failed to appropriately respond to whistleblower allegations.
“The new Congress will be steadfast in its commitment to getting the full truth about this reckless gunwalking effort that has been linked to murders on both sides of our border with Mexico,” he said.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General blamed the failure of Fast and Furious in a September report on a series of “misguided strategies,” but found no evidence that Mr. Holder knew of the misguided gunrunning investigation before its public unraveling in January 2011.
The long-anticipated 471-page report cites “errors in judgment and management failures” on the part of officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives headquarters in Washington and in the Phoenix field office, and says “questionable judgments” by Justice Department officials in Washington marred the department´s response to Capitol Hill inquiries.
The investigation came to light after two AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles purchased as a part of Fast and Furious were found at the scene of the killing nearly two years ago of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry. The report recommended that 14 department employees be reviewed for possible sanctions or other disciplinary actions.
In February 2011, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began an investigation into a Justice Department law enforcement operation known as Fast and Furious. In Fast and Furious, which was operational between November 2009 and January 2011, Mr. Issa said the Justice Department “knowingly allowed firearms to be purchased illegally in the United States and then transported into Mexico” to try to establish a link between leaders of Mexican crime syndicates and those who purchased the firearms.
In October 2011, Mr. Issa authorized and issued a subpoena that directed Mr. Holder to produce documents concerning the operation of Fast and Furious and the response by the Justice Department to it.
In December 2011, senior Department officials admitted they had provided inaccurate information to Congress 10 months earlier concerning whether guns had been “walked” to Mexico.
But, according to Mr. Issa, Mr. Holder “continued to treat the subpoena that had been served on him with the same disregard with which the department had treated the committee’s investigation from the outset.
Among other materials, he said the subpoena sought documents that could explain what top Justice Department officials knew and why the department had delayed acknowledgement of the tactics it had denied to Congress.
Nearly 10 months after the return date for the Holder subpoena, Mr. Issa said the attorney general produced approximately 4,000 pages of responsive documents.
In contrast, he said, the Inspector General at Justice had access to more than 80,000 documents.
Of particular importance, Mr. Issa said, was that Mr. Holder refused to produce “virtually all documents responsive to the Holder Subpoena dated or created after Feb. 4, 2011.
“This impaired Congress’ efforts to determine when the department became aware of reckless tactics and how it responded after it had issued false denials,” he said.
Mr. Issa said that before the House voted to hold Mr. Holder in contempt and authorize a civil suit, the House made “multiple attempts to reach an amicable agreement.” But, he said, the Department remained “steadfast in its refusal to accept these proposals and would not engage in a dialogue about specific documents it was withholding and its specific reasons for doing so.”
Mr. Issa said the House remains open to settling the matter outside of federal court if the Justice Department drops its objections to providing the materials at issue.