Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will testify again before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the Justice Department’s response to the controversial “Fast and Furious” weapons investigations in which hundreds of guns were “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico.
Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, on Wednesday said Mr. Holder - who has been the target of several rancorous House and Senate hearings over the Fast and Furious operation - will be asked on Feb. 2 to address “management deficiencies” within the department that occurred both during and after the botched undercover probe was shut down.
“The Department of Justice’s conduct in the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious has been nothing short of shameful,” Mr. Issa said. “From its initial denials that nothing improper occurred, to efforts to silence whistle-blowers who wanted to tell Congress what really happened, to its continuing refusal to discuss or share documents related to this cover-up, the Justice Department has fought tooth and nail to hide the full truth about what occurred and what senior officials knew.
“Attorney General Holder must explain or reverse course on decisions that appear to put the careers of political appointees ahead of the need for accountability and the department’s integrity,” he said.
A major focus of the hearing is expected to include what Mr. Issa has described as the Justice Department’s “steadfast refusal” to disclose information following a Feb. 4 letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, which the department has since withdrawn because it contained false information denying accusations made by whistle-blowers about Fast and Furious.
Mr. Issa said the committee’s investigation has found documentation that numerous members of the Justice Department knew the letter to Congress contained false information both before it was sent and later withdrawn.
Mr. Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began the now-expanding congressional probe into Fast and Furious after the Dec. 14, 2010, shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry. Two AK-47 assault rifles purchased during Fast and Furious were found at the scene.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigation allowed 2,000 weapons bought by “straw buyers” in Arizona to be walked into Mexico - 1,400 of which have yet to be recovered.
Mr. Grassley has since called for the resignation of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, saying accountability in the Fast and Furious probe was long overdue.
The Justice Department has said Mr. Breuer acknowledged making mistakes in his dealings with Congress over Fast and Furious, but Mr. Holder continues to have confidence in his ability to lead the Criminal Division. The department said Mr. Breuer did not participate in the drafting of the Feb. 4 letter and does not recall reviewing it before it was sent.
But Mr. Grassley said that while the Justice Department publicly denied to Congress that ATF would ever walk guns into Mexico, Mr. Breuer knew otherwise and said nothing. He said the truth was hidden for 18 months and became public only because of the Fast and Furious investigation by his staff and Mr. Issa.
Mr. Issa noted that in December, the Justice Department explicitly told his panel it would not deliver subpoenaed documents relating to Fast and Furious created after Feb. 4. In interviews with committee investigators, he said senior Justice Department officials who had management responsibilities for Fast and Furious also refused to answer questions about decisions and conversations that occurred after Feb. 4.