The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday said new documents show that senior Justice Department officials in Washington, despite their previous denials, were given “specific information about reckless tactics” in the botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning investigation.
In a letter, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, rebuked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for what he described as Mr. Holder’s “continuing efforts to mislead Congress about both the contents of the wiretap applications and details of who knew about and gave approval for reckless tactics.”
While refusing to produce documents on the Fast and Furious operation that have been subpoenaed by the committee, Mr. Issa said, Mr. Holder previously denied knowledge of and cast doubt on the possibility that the wiretap applications contained information about reckless tactics.
“The wiretap applications show that immense detail about questionable investigative tactics was available to the senior officials who reviewed and authorized them. The close involvement of these officials — much greater than previously known — is shocking,” Mr. Issa wrote.
“Throughout the course of the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, the [Justice] Department has consistently denied that any senior officials were provided information about the tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious,” he wrote. “The wiretap applications obtained by the committee show such statements made by senior department officials regarding the wiretaps to be false and misleading.”
Mr. Issa said that Mr. Holder repeatedly has either denied involvement by senior officials in Fast and Furious or asserted that the wiretap applications did not contain detail about “irresponsible investigative tactics.”
Wiretaps utilized in Fast and Furious were intended to allow investigators in Arizona to listen to the phone calls of suspect drug traffickers as part of a strategy to reveal evidence of involvement by high-level Mexican cartel associates, Mr. Issa said.
He said six applications for wiretaps obtained by the committee, which have been sealed by a federal judge, detail specific actions taken by agents in Fast and Furious, including “conscious decisions not to interdict weapons that agents knew were illegally purchased by smugglers taking weapons to Mexico.” Mr. Issa said the applications were approved by senior Justice Department officials in March, April, May, June and July of 2010.
The wiretaps, as required by federal law, were submitted to Washington for approval by senior officials in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Mr. Issa said, adding that they were approved under the authority of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the division.
“To justify the need for the invasive law enforcement tool, Justice Department officials use robust and detailed information to explain the evidence used to merit its use and why other tactics are not sufficient to achieve the goals of the operation,” he said.
Information contained in the wiretaps was subpoenaed by the committee, but the Justice Department refused to turn them over to investigators.
The committee and Republican leaders in the House warned Mr. Holder in a letter last month that he must fully address concerns outlined by investigators over the Fast and Furious operation or face a contempt citation. Mr. Holder has not responded to this letter.
A 64-page draft contempt resolution and an accompanying 17-page staff briefing paper explained what Mr. Issa called the “reckless conduct” of the Fast and Furious investigation and the “hardships” faced by the family of a U.S. Border Patrol agent killed with a weapon purchased in the probe. The two documents also detail retaliation against agents who blew the whistle on the operation and the “carnage in Mexico” that Fast and Furious helped fuel.
As the wiretaps have been sealed, the committee cannot release them publicly, but copies have been sent to the committee minority, and the wiretaps were made available for review by the full committee.