- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was threatened Thursday with contempt of Congress by Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who said the Justice Department has failed to turn over key documents in the committee’s ongoing investigation into the botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation in Arizona, during which hundreds of weapons were “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico.

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and committee chairman, said top Justice Department officials have actively sought to “obstruct” the committee’s investigation, adding that the department had provided only 6,400 pages of documents out of some 93,000 pages being sought by committee investigators.

Mr. Issa, who first began looking into the Fast and Furious operation more than a year ago following the shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry on the Arizona-Mexico border, said all the documents sought under an October committee subpoena should be delivered by Feb. 9.

“If the department continues to obstruct the congressional inquiry by not providing documents and information, this committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress,” Mr. Issa said.

“All these people should be ashamed that they didn’t do as good a job as they should have,” he said, suggesting that key officials at the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which oversaw Fast and Furious, were directly involved in overseeing the operation in which more than 2,000 weapons — including hundreds of AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles — were moved across the Mexican border.

Two AK-47 assault rifles, purchased by “straw buyers” in Arizona, were found at the scene of the Terry death, who died in a shootout just north of the border near Nogales, Ariz.

Mr. Holder, whose appearance before the committee Thursday was the sixth time he has been called to answer questions about the ATF-led operation, insisted that the Justice Department has tried to comply with the committee’s requests for information. He said the department has “facilitated numerous witness interviews,” saying it had been “a significant undertaking for department employees, and our efforts in this regard remain ongoing.”

He told the committee that allowing weapons to walk into Mexico, whether in this administration or in the prior one, was “wholly unacceptable,” adding that the tactic appeared to have been adopted in a “misguided effort to stem the alarming number of illegal firearms that are trafficked each year from the United States to Mexico.” He said stopping the flow of weapons is “a laudable and critical goal,” but attempting to achieve it by using such “inappropriate tactics is neither acceptable nor excusable.”

Mr. Holder said that when he learned of the operation, he requested an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which is still ongoing. He said he also issued a directive prohibiting the use of such tactics and made important personnel changes at ATF.

He also said the Justice Department had provided Congress with “virtually unprecedented access” to internal deliberative documents to show how “inaccurate information” was initially conveyed about Fast and Furious, adding that in doing so, Justice Department officials relied on information provided by field supervisors that later proved to be inaccurate.

Mr. Holder also said the department does not intend to produce additional deliberative materials about the response to congressional oversight or media requests that postdate the commencement of congressional review. That decision, he said, is consistent with the longstanding approach taken by the department, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and “reflects concerns for the constitutionally protected separation of powers.”

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and former committee chairman, said he thought Mr. Holder was “hiding behind something,” adding that the attorney general “ought to give us the documents. … It appears we’re being stonewalled.” He said he would encourage Mr. Issa to seek the contempt of Congress citation if Justice does not produce the congressionally subpoenaed documents.

Several other Republican committee members suggested that Mr. Holder resign.

Committee Democrats, in a report issued earlier this week, said “misguided gunwalking operations” that began in 2006 in Arizona lacked sufficient operational controls to stop dangerous weapons from getting to violent criminals, creating a danger to public safety on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland said in the 95-page minority staff report that rather than halting the operations after flaws became evident, ATF launched “similarly reckless operations” over the next several years, also with tragic results.

Mr. Cummings’ report, titled “Fatally Flawed: Five Years of Gunwalking in Arizona,” concludes that ATF’s Phoenix field division devised a strategy to forgo prosecutions against low-level straw buyers who purchased hundreds of weapons at Arizona gun shops while they attempted to build larger cases against the drug cartels, but the strategy failed.

The minority report also said that contrary to “repeated claims by some,” investigators found no evidence that the failed Fast and Furious probe was a “politically-motivated operation conceived and directed” by high-level Obama administration political appointees at the Justice Department.

“The documents obtained and interviews conducted by the committee indicate that it was the latest in a series of reckless and fatally flawed operations run by ATF’s Phoenix field division during both the previous and current administrations,” he said.

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