U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said the Justice Department’s refusal to turn over documents related to a failed gun-smuggling operation was “clearly a cover-up” by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration.
“It was deny, delay and recuse,” Issa, a California Republican, said on ABC’s “This Week” of his panel’s clash with the administration.
“Lying to Congress is a crime,” he said. “We have every right to see documents that say, did you know, when did you know, what did you know, including even the president.”
Appearing later on Fox News, Issa also predicted that Republicans and Democrats would vote to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress this week.
“I believe they will, both Republicans and Democrats will vote that,” Issa said on Fox News Sunday. “There are a number of Democrats, 31, who wrote to the administration asking them to be forthcoming. Many of them will stay with us now that the administration has not been.”
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Issa previously has said as many as 31 Democrats could vote to place Holder in contempt. Still, no Democrats on his committee last week voted with Republicans.
But Issa said it was still possible for Holder to avoid a contempt charge.
If the president and Holder “would simply start producing the documents they know they could produce to us that are not by any means going to be covered by executive privilege, this could be delayed or even eliminated," Issa said.
Issa’s committee is seeking documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed guns illegally purchased in the U.S. to be smuggled across the border to track them to Mexican drug cartels. Democrats are accusing House Republicans of engaging in an election-year “fishing expedition” with their probe.
In a June 20 party-line vote, the panel brushed aside President Barack Obama’s last-minute assertion of executive privilege to shield the documents and held Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena for them.
The committee’s action marked an escalation in a standoff between Republican lawmakers and the Obama administration that began last year. House Republican leaders set a vote by the full House on the contempt citation for this week, setting up a potential referral of the case to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington to determine whether prosecution is warranted.
Republican lawmakers say that Obama’s assertion of executive privilege raises questions about the extent of what he knew about Fast and Furious. The principle of executive privilege says the executive branch can’t be forced by the legislative branch to disclose confidential communications when they would harm operations. This is the first time Obama has invoked executive privilege, according to the White House.
Issa is seeking documents describing internal Justice Department discussions about a February 2011 letter to lawmakers that Holder later said mistakenly contained incorrect information.
The Justice Department says it already has provided more than 7,600 pages of documents in the case. In a June 20 statement, Holder called the panel’s action “unwarranted, unnecessary and unprecedented.”
Guns in Fast and Furious ended up “lost” and will turn up at crime scenes on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for years, Holder told lawmakers last year.
Two of about 2,000 guns that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed to be carried away were found at the scene of the December 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona, according to a congressional report.
Holder has said that he didn’t learn of the tactics in the operation until after it was the subject of news reports. Since then, he has banned the use of similar law enforcement methods.
The attorney general told a Senate hearing last year that he regretted a Feb. 4, 2011, letter the Justice Department sent lawmakers that indicated ATF hadn’t “knowingly allowed” the tactics in the law enforcement operation to be employed. Information in the letter turned out to be inaccurate, he said.
Issa said today that his panel is particularly concerned about a Justice Department memo generated weeks later that may have shown agency officials were aware at that time Congress had been given false information. The panel seeks the memo, drafted by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, as part of the probe.
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“How can you presume that it is or isn’t a cover-up of something wrong, when in fact there clearly is a cover-up of some information that should have been shown to us?” he said.
Issa said that he will send a letter to Obama today or tomorrow detailing why lawmakers say the president is taking an overly broad approach to executive privilege in the matter. If the administration changes course and releases the documents, “we’ll delay contempt and continue the process,” he said.
Dozens of Republican lawmakers have called on Holder to resign over his handling of probes into the gun operation and leaks of classified national security information. Republicans have also criticized how the Justice Department under Holder has prosecuted terrorism suspects and challenged state immigration and voting laws.
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