Attorney General Eric Holder
admitted late on Friday that the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation was “fundamentally flawed” and “completely unacceptable,” in a lengthy explanatory letter sent to six leading Congressmen.
But for much of the five-page letter, Holder attacked Republican members of Congress for anything from criticism of him to their defense of gun rights.
Holder’s highly partisan letter was immediately slammed as “self-serving” by the House Oversight Committee, whose chairman, California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa has led the probe into the scandal.
“If Attorney General Holder had said these things five months ago when Congress asked him about Operation Fast and Furious, it might have been more believable,” said committee spokesman Frederick Hill.
“At this point, however, it’s hard to take at face value a defense that is factually questionable, entirely self-serving, and a still incomplete account of what senior Justice Department officials knew about gun walking.”
Holder has come under increasing attack in the past week for his role in Fast and Furious, a scheme which allowed hundreds of assault weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels in the hope that they could be traced. Nearly all the weapons went missing and have been involved in dozens of crimes both in the U.S. and Mexico and have led to the deaths of two U.S. agents.
In the letter to Republican Reps. Issa and Lamar Smith and Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democrat Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Conyers and Sen. Patrick Leahy, Holder said he had to address the issues surrounding Fast and Furious as they have “become so base and so harmful to interests that I hope we all share.”
Holder had particularly harsh words for GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for saying that administration officials may be “accessories to murder” for their role in the project.
“Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms,” said Holder. “Those who serve in the ranks of law enforcement are our Nation’s heroes and deserve our Nation’s thanks, not the disrespect that is being heaped on them by those who seek political advantage. I trust you feel similarly and I call on you to denounce these statements.”
Holder said that gunrunning schemes are part and parcel of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) work on the southwest border.
“To be sure, during 2010 I knew generally that ATF was conducting gun trafficking operations along the Southwest Border and elsewhere in the country since that is a core part of its mission given the large number of firearms flowing to Mexico each year from the United States,” he wrote.
He said he knew of some of those schemes, but not Fast and Furious.
“Much has been made in the past few days about my congressional testimony earlier this year regarding Fast and Furious,” he wrote. “My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout. I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation.”
Holder dismissed accusations that he should have known of the scheme because it was mentioned in at least five weekly emails sent to him by Director of National Drug Intelligence Michael Walther. In doing so, he seemed to be laying blame at his subordinates for not bringing the matter to his attention.
“On a weekly basis, my office typically receives over a hundred pages of so-called ‘weekly reports’ that, while addressed to me, actually are provided to and reviewed by members of my staff and the staff of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. The weekly reports contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week.
“Attorneys in my office … review these weekly reports and bring to my attention only those matters deemed to require my consideration or action; given the volume of material to which I must devote my attention, I do not and cannot read them cover-to-cover.”
He said there are channels for notifying him of problems “and a weekly report is not one of them.”
“As Attorney General, I am not and cannot be familiar with the operational details of any particular investigation being conducted in an ATF field office unless those details are brought to my attention. That did not happen with Fast and Furious until the public controversy arose in 2011.”
He also refuted claims that Sen. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, made to Newsmax, concerning two letters he handed Holder in January asking about Fast and Furious. Those letter actually asked about another scheme called Project Gunrunner, which was started under the Bush administration, Holder claimed.
The Attorney General took the opportunity in the letter to attack gun-rights supporting politicians who blocked moves to report large gun purchases near the border.
“The lack of reporting requirements for multiple long gun purchases in a short period of time hindered law enforcement efforts to combat gun trafficking. Yet the House of Representatives has voted to block a rule that requires such reporting on the Southwest Border,” he wrote.
He also called for stiffer penalties for people buying guns for the cartels. “ATF witnesses testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the agency’s ability to stem the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico is severely impaired by a lack of effective law enforcement tools,” he wrote.
“For example, a number of witnesses indicated that current penalties for illegal straw purchases are inadequate to deter such activity or to induce cooperation with law enforcement authorities after a violation is detected.”
Much of the letter was spent openly blasting Republicans, including Issa, who he said had cut off Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York when she attempted to quiz an ATF witness about law reforms that would help to stem the flow of illegal weapons.
“While failing to interdict weapons is an unacceptable tactic to stop the flow of illegal weapons, it seems clear that some in Congress are more interested in using this regrettable incident to score political points than in addressing the underlying problem,” he wrote.
“Even in the face of an unprecedented flow of guns across the border, too many in Congress still oppose every effort to reform our gun laws in ways that would make the United States and our Mexican neighbors safer.
“Until we move beyond the current political climate – where real solutions take a back seat to both political posturing and making headlines on cable news programs, and is deemed more important than actually solving our country’s difficult challenges – nothing is going to change.”
Holder ended his letter by pleading to the politicians, “I hope we can engage in a more responsible dialogue on this subject in the future. There is much we need to do together to stop gun violence on both sides of our border and make our Nation safer.”
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