Department of Justice witnesses appearing before a congressional inquiry into allegations of gunrunning were prepped about what to say, Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley contend.
The witnesses were told to look at documents before answering committee questions into the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, Issa and Grassley said. The department even warned the committee against doing exactly the same, they said.
The new accusations bring more pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder, who is in the hot seat over his failure to stop the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) operation in which guns were allowed to go to drug kingpins in the hopes that they would lead to violent Mexican cartel leaders.
The ATF now admits that it lost track of most of the 2,000 weapons, and many have been linked to crimes, including the murders of border agent Brian Terry and immigration officer Jaime Zapata.
The Justice Department afforded witnesses access to a shared hard drive “replete with pertinent investigative documents, including ATF e-mails,” Issa and Grassley say in a letter to Holder. Issa, of California, and Grassley, of Iowa, lead Republicans on the congressional inquiries.
They say they learned about the practice, which has been stopped, in evidence from William McMahon, a deputy assistant director for field operations in the ATF.
“They put a link on our computer, some kind of hard drive that I can click on and read things that have been produced,” McMahon said. When asked what the purpose of the drive was, he replied, “Just to refresh my recollection about what is out there.”
The two GOP members say that, on May 5, less than eight weeks before McMahon gave his evidence, an associate deputy attorney general, whom they do not identify, sent them an email warning them against the same kind of tactic.
“To the extent that you . . . plan to interview our trial witnesses prior to trial, we would appreciate you taking the following steps to help reduce the risk of harm to the case,” the associate wrote. “We ask that you not show the witnesses new documents, as exposing the witnesses to facts that are not already within their personal knowledge may contaminate their recall of events.”
Now, Issa and Grassley have called on Holder to tell them which agents had access to the drive and to provide a log of documents.
“Allowing witnesses access to such documents could taint their testimony by allowing them to tailor their responses to what they think the committees already know,” they wrote in their letter. Additionally, witnesses who gain access to documents they have not previously seen could alter their recollection of events.”
Issa and Grassley’s letter to Holder is the second within a week where they have questioned the Justice Department’s handling of the Fast and Furious inquiry. On July 5, they criticized media leaks that said that ATF acting head Ken Melson would be forced out.
Melson turned against the Justice Department by giving secret evidence to Congressional investigators on July 4.
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