Rep. Darrell Issa, who is leading a probe into the Fast and Furious Mexican gunrunning scandal, launched a scathing attack on Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, accusing him of being incompetent, untrustworthy and negligent.
In a letter to Holder, the California Republican named two senior officials in the Department of Justice he contends were fully aware of the project that allowed hundreds of high-powered weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Three Republican House members have called for Holder’s resignation and, although Issa did not go quite that far, he made it clear that responsibility for the botched scheme must fall on his shoulders.
“Whether you realize yet or not, you own Fast and Furious. It is your responsibility,” wrote Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
“You have made numerous statements about Fast and Furious that have eventually been proven to be untrue. Your lack of trustworthiness while speaking about Fast and Furious has called into question your overall credibility as Attorney General.
“The time for deflecting blame and obstructing our investigation is over,” Issa wrote. “The time has come for you to come clean to the American public about what you knew about Fast and Furious, when you knew it, and who is going to be held accountable for failing to shut down a program that has already had deadly consequences, and will likely cause more casualties for years to come.”
Issa was responding to a highly partisan letter Holder sent out on Friday trying to explain his position on the scheme. In that letter, in which Holder insisted that he did not know of Fast and Furious until early this year, he attacked Republicans for trying to politicize the matter.
Issa labeled Holder’s letter “deeply disappointing.” He added, “Instead of pledging all necessary resources to assist the congressional investigation in discovering the truth behind the fundamentally flawed Operation Fast and Furious, your letter instead did little but obfuscate, shift blame, berate, and attempt to change the topic away from the Department’s responsibility in the creation, implementation, and authorization of this reckless program.”
The scandal gathered steam during the past week when GOP Reps. Blake Farenthold of Texas, Raul Labrador of Idaho, and Paul Gosar of Arizona all called on Holder to step down. Ten Arizona sheriffs — five Democrats and five Republicans — also urged that Holder quit, or be fired
Issa’s letter increases the pressure on the administration’s top law official still further.
Under Fast and Furious, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were told not to intervene when hundreds of guns were bought by straw buyers, even though they knew they were bound for drug cartels south of the border. The idea was that the guns would be traced and would lead agents to the drug kingpins.
But nearly all the weapons were lost and were used in dozens of crimes both in Mexico and the United States. Two U.S. agents, Brian Terry and Jaime Zapata, were murdered with weapons bought under the project.
Issa did not mince words in attacking Holder’s comments. “It appears your latest defense has reached a new low,” he wrote.
“Incredibly, in your letter from Friday you now claim that you were unaware of Fast and Furious because your staff failed to inform you of information contained in memos that were specifically addressed to you.
“At best, this indicates negligence and incompetence in your duties as Attorney General. At worst, it places your credibility into serious doubt.”
Issa pointed out that, just a month after taking office as President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Holder pledged to take on the Mexican cartels. “The cartels, you said, ‘are lucrative, they are violent, and they are operated with stunning planning and precision.’ You promised that under your leadership ‘these cartels will be destroyed.’
“Under your leadership, however, Operation Fast and Furious has proven these promises hollow. According to one agent, Operation Fast and Furious ‘armed the cartel. It is disgusting.’ Fast and Furious simply served as a convenient means for dangerous cartels to acquire upwards of 2,000 assault-style weapons.”
Issa named two top Justice Department officials, Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, and Gary Grindler, now Holder’s chief of staff, saying they were given detailed briefings on the operation in March 2010, a year before Holder says he knew.
“Although Breuer and his top deputies were informed of the operational details and tactics of Fast and Furious, they did nothing to stop the program. In fact, on a trip to Mexico Breuer trumpeted Fast and Furious as a promising investigation.”
Grindler was given an “extremely detailed briefing” in March 2010, Issa added. “In this briefing, Grindler learned such minutiae as the number of times that Uriel Patino, a straw purchaser on food stamps who ultimately acquired 720 firearms, went in to a cooperating gun store and the amount of guns that he had bought.
“When former Acting ATF Director Ken Melson, a career federal prosecutor, learned similar information, he became sick to his stomach,” Issa wrote.
“At the time of his briefing in March of last year, Grindler knew that Patino had purchased 313 weapons and paid for all of them in cash. Unlike Melson, Grindler clearly saw nothing wrong with this.
“If Grindler had had the sense to shut this investigation down right then, he could have prevented the purchase of an additional 407 weapons by Patino alone. Instead, Grindler did nothing to stop the program.”
In his letter, Issa said “it simply is not believable” that neither Breuer nor Grindler told Holder of the scheme.
“The facts simply do not support any claim that Fast and Furious did not reach the highest levels of the Justice Department,” Issa told Holder in the letter. “Actually, Fast and Furious did reach the ultimate authority in the Department — you.”
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