President Barack Obama threw his full weight behind Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday despite growing evidence that Holder was clearly told about the Fast and Furious Mexican gunrunning scheme nine months before he will admit.
Obama’s backing came just hours after the two Republicans leading the probe into the scandal, Californian Rep. Darrell Issa, and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, released a set of five emails that reveal that Michael Walther, the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, had told Holder of the scheme last summer.
In the memos, the first of which was sent on July 5, Walther clearly pointed out that his agents in Arizona were supporting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Operation Fast and Furious.
“This investigation, initiated in September … involves a Phoenix-based firearms trafficking ring headed by Manuel Celis-Acosta,” wrote Walther in each of the five emails. “Celis-Acosta and [Redacted] straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug trafficking cartels. They also have direct ties to the Sinaloa Cartel which is suspected of providing $1 million for the purchase of firearms in the Phoenix area.”
In a joint statement, Issa and Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called it “very troubling that Holder actually knew of Operation Fast and Furious much earlier, and in greater detail than he ever let on.”
Grassley added, “It seems the logical question for the Attorney General after reading the memo would be, ‘Why haven’t we stopped them?’ And if he didn’t ask the questions, why didn’t he?”
But the growing criticism failed to move the president. “I’ve been very clear, that I have complete confidence in Attorney General Holder on how he handles his office,” Obama said at a press conference called to discuss his jobs plan.
“He’s indicated he was not aware of what was happening in Fast and Furious – and certainly I was not,” added the president. “Both he and I would have been very unhappy if somebody had suggested that guns were allowed to pass through that could have been prevented by the United States of America.”
Obama said Holder had assigned an inspector general “to look into how exactly this happened,” adding, “I’ve got complete confidence in the process to figure out who in fact was responsible for that decision and how it got made.”
In evidence before the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, Holder said he had first learned of Fast and Furious – an ATF scheme which led to hundreds of assault weapons falling into the hands of Mexican drug cartels – “a few weeks ago.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney called that evidence “consistent and truthful” on Wednesday, but Walther’s memos appear to contradict that.
Under Fast and Furious, ATF agents were told not to intervene when they suspected guns sold in the United States would go to the cartels. The plan was to trace the weapons with the hope that they would lead them to the drug kingpins.
But most of the weapons were soon lost and in December, two were used when Border Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout in Arizona. U.S. Immigration agent Jaime Zapata was killed with a Fast and Furious gun while working in Mexico in February and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said on Wednesday the weapons have been used in at least 11 crimes on American soil.
Pressure on the attorney general has risen to a crescendo this week, climaxing in a Republican call for Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Holder lied to Congress when he said he only knew about the scheme in the spring, when newly released emails show he was told five times in weekly emails starting in July last year.
Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texan chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked for a special prosecutor on Tuesday. Now, two others, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho and Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold have called on Holder to quit.
Farenthold told NRA News radio that resignation is “the only honorable thing” for Holder to do.
“There are two options: He was lying or he was not doing his job, keeping up with what the Justice Department was doing,” Farenthold told NRA News radio. “I would probably resign if that came out, if I had done that.”
Labrador said Holder has “lost all credibility and should step down immediately.”
“He cannot avoid responsibility for his involvement with a government program that directly led to the tragic death of a decorated U.S. Border Patrol agent,” he added. “The question now is if Mr. Holder is only protecting himself or is he also protecting others – perhaps all the way to the top of the administration?”
House Speaker John Boehner told Newsmax he was confident that the party would “get to the bottom of this program that has caused so much chaos.”
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