The Fast and Furious investigation has reached its 17th month, and it’s obvious it has taken on a life of its own. Stonewalling and misdirection from the executive branch in response to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s investigation not only raise suspicions and make a mockery of the idea of due process but also minimize the death of a patriot who served his country valiantly.
I wish I could say the actions of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., his Justice Department and the president were unprecedented, but history proves otherwise. In 1998, while serving as chairman of the House oversight committee, I held a vote recommending contempt for then-Attorney General Janet Reno for her failure to comply with a subpoena issued in connection with the committee’s investigation into campaign finance law violations. Although the committee voted to hold Ms. Reno in contempt, a resolution of contempt of Congress was never voted on by the full House of Representatives. Despite the different outcomes, the parallels between then and now are very similar. In both instances, the accused misled the committee and feigned ignorance throughout the entire investigation. These are not actions commonly attributed to persons with nothing to hide.
Unfortunately, Mr. Holder’s Justice Department and the administration chose a course of action that forced Congress’ hand. The inability to find closure regarding this congressional investigation rests solely on the executive branch’s determination to obstruct it. This kind of disregard for congressional oversight and the duties of his office must not stand. I am a firm believer in the relevance of the old detective’s query, “What did he know and when did he know it?” Unfortunately, the answers to these simple questions remain unknown to the American people. But when one takes into account the facts that the committee has brought to light, it becomes very clear that the executive branch looks guilty of hiding the truth.
In 2009, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) implemented an operation that allowed criminal suspects to walk away with illegally purchased guns. The purpose was to wait and watch in the hope law enforcement could identify members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case. Tragically, about 2,000 weapons were not tracked, forcing Mr. Holder to formally retract previous claims that he had made to Congress.
Six wiretap applications dating back to 2010 prove this to be true. Those wiretap applications reveal that ATF agents were monitoring suspected gun traffickers for Mexican drug cartels but making no arrests or interdictions. Wiretap applications do not happen on their own — they require authorization at the highest levels. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco, three of Mr. Holder’s most senior aides, authorized those wiretap applications. It defies reason that not one of Mr. Holder’s most senior aides was made aware of the highly controversial and perilous tactics being employed in the Fast and Furious operation.
Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa’s handling of this investigation has been meticulous. He has been dogged in his pursuit of the truth while also exercising professional courtesy and restraint in his dealings with Mr. Holder and the Justice Department. His professionalism and fortitude were met with the handing over of about 7,600 of the requested 100,000 documents (about 13 percent) of overly redacted material no doubt strategically vetted and hand-selected by senior officials within the department for their lack of detail. Justice’s level of cooperation to this point has been severely lacking. In fact, the evidence is inescapable that the executive branch is going out of its way to ensure that this investigation does not come to an impartial conclusion. We owe it to the American and Mexican people to see this investigation come to its rightful and truthful conclusion.
We must not allow ourselves to become bogged down by the political firestorm that has engulfed the Fast and Furious investigation. Whether one chooses to discuss the contempt of Mr. Holder or whether Mr. Obama has misused executive privilege, the political theater threatens to overshadow the true purpose of this investigation. The heart of the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious is to seek answers about the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry as well as hundreds of innocent Mexican citizens, all killed by guns supplied to Mexican drug warlords by our own federal government.
No one is above the law. It is the fundamental duty of Congress to find out why this happened and to ensure that this kind of reckless behavior is not tolerated or allowed ever to happen again. We must get to the bottom of this.
Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.