Attorney General Eric Holder is leading what looks "more and more like a cover-up" of what he knew about a government-sanctioned gunrunning scheme that allowed hundreds of assault weapons to fall into the hands of violent Mexican drug cartels, says one of the key senators involved in the investigation.
Sen. John Cornyn told Fox News Wednesday that Holder is obstructing congressional investigations. “We need to get to the bottom of this and the attorney general is not helping,” Cornyn said.
“He’s obstructing access to the information that he says will exonerate him and his administration and would need to know what happened and we’re going to find out what happened," said the Texas Republican, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Cornyn said Holder so far has given a “half-hearted and weak” explanation of what he knew about Fast and Furious and when he knew it. The attorney general needs to be called back to testify under oath before Congress, he said.
“If there’s nothing wrong here, if he just didn’t know about it, then he should welcome that kind of inquiry to clear up this confusion,” he said.
Instead, Cornyn said, Holder “is just hoping to brush this under the rug and as happens so often in Washington, it’s not the original offense that’s so bad as the cover-up and I’m afraid it’s beginning to look more and more like a cover-up.”
Holder’s credibility as attorney general has begun to look more tenuous in recent days as attacks have grown. In May he told the House Judiciary Committee that he only learned of the scheme “within the last few weeks,” but emails have now turned up showing that he was told as far back as June 2010.
Now he has hit back at the increasing criticism with an attempt to tie the Bush administration to Fast and Furious. He revealed that a similar scheme called Operation Wide Receiver was in operation in 2006.
That move was slammed by Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican House Member investigating the scandal. “This far into the investigation, throwing out the ‘Bush-administration-did-it-too defense’ reeks of desperation,” Issa’s spokeswoman, Becca Watkins, told Newsmax in a statement.
“If true, it would indicate that Obama Justice officials have engaged in an active effort to deceive Congress about gun-walking they knew had taken place but had strenuously denied until only recently.”
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has pledged to broaden his investigation into Fast and Furious to include Wide Receiver. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he is not “giving anyone a pass.”
He said he has learned that Wide Receiver involved fewer weapons than Fast and Furious and there was “much more intensive following” to track the weapons.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Upper House’s Judiciary Committee, who has been working alongside Issa to get to the bottom of Fast and Furious, said, “Whether it's Operation Fast and Furious, Operation Wide Receiver, or both, it's clear that guns were walked, and people high in the Justice Department knew about it.
“There's no excuse for walking guns, and if there are more operations like this, Congress and the American people need to know," added the Iowa Senator.
Republicans are beginning to smell blood and are increasing pressure on Holder. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has called on President Barack Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate how much he knew and when he knew it. Sen. John McCain revealed that the entire Arizona delegation to Congress is “leaning toward” a similar move.
House Speaker John Boehner told Newsmax on Tuesday that he was confident Issa and his committee will “get to the bottom of this program that has caused so much chaos.”
Editor's Note: See "Boehner: Congress Will 'Get to Bottom' of Fast and Furious" — Go Here Now
Under Fast and Furious, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were ordered not to intervene if they suspected guns bought mainly in Arizona would end up crossing the border to be used by drug cartels. The idea was to trace the weapons which, it was hoped, would lead them to the cartel leaders.
But the ATF lost track of most of the weapons within weeks of the program’s start. In January 2010, 40 were discovered in El Paso, Texas, and in December two were used in a shootout in Arizona that resulted in the death of Border Agent Brian Terry. Another U.S. agent, Jaime Zapata, was killed by a Fast and Furious weapon while working in Mexico, and the guns have been linked to dozens of other crimes south of the border.
Cornyn contineds that Fast and Furious guns have been used in 11 crimes in the United States.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler defended Holder, saying his testimony to both the Senate and House had been “consistent and truthful.”
“He said in both March and May of this year that he became aware of the questionable tactics employed in the Fast and Furious Operation in early 2011 when ATF agents first raised them publicly, and at the time, he asked the Inspector General's Office to investigate the matter,” said Schmaler, who said references to the scheme were buried in a mountain of details.
"The weekly reports provided to the offices of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general are compiled each week from entries submitted by 24 divisions and components with offices around the country,” she said.
“These routine reports provide general overviews and status updates on policy and legislative issues, public events, news clips, ongoing cases and investigations as well as key filings, hearings, and expected rulings.
“As the documents provided to Congress show, not a single one of these reports referenced the controversial tactics that allowed guns to cross the border, and in fact, in one example provided to Congress consisted of a single sentence referencing a Phoenix-based operation. These reports are compiled to provide regular updates to department leadership and can contain references to hundreds of cases, investigations, filings, court opinions and initiatives going on around the country at any given time.
“None of the handful of entries in 2010 regarding the Fast and Furious suggested there was anything amiss with that investigation requiring leadership to take corrective action or commit to memory this particular operation prior to the disturbing claims raised by ATF agents in the early part of 2011.”
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