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US AG faces contempt & calls for resignation

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

As expected, questions asked by US House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Attorney General Eric Holder during a Congressional hearing in Washington, DC remained largely unanswered.

On Thursday, June 7, Holder appeared at an oversight hearing on the Justice Department's activities. His reticence, however, may have far-reaching consequences. Smith's Congressional colleague,
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has scheduled a committee vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress. For months - if not years - Holder has failed to provide subpoenaed documents related to the controversial Operation Fast & Furious. Issa, a Republican from California, has set the vote for Wednesday, June 20. His bottom line is documentation leading to a "chain of accountability" for the failed gun-walking operation.

Issa's move is not without precedent. In 1998, members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee voted to cite then-AG Janet Reno for contempt of Congress for not turning over documents during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. However, the full House of Representatives never voted on the resolution because the requested documents were eventually produced.

Adding to the AG's woes, Senator John Cornyn publically demanded Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation due to Holder's continued refusal to answer questions about the botched gun-walking operation known as "Fast and Furious." Cornyn's demand came during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, June 12.

No answers yet

During last week's Congressional hearing, Smith's inquiries included whether top White House officials were aware of Operation Fast & Furious by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Ultimately, the slapdash operation might have contributed to the shooting death of United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Outstanding questions that dominated the committee's discussion last week surrounded the failed ATF operation that allowed guns to be purchased in the US and trafficked to Mexico.

Chief among queries emanating from Inside the Beltway was the perennial two-parter: What did Holder know about Operation Fast and Furious and when did he know it? As usual, nothing substantive was forthcoming from the nation's top prosecutor. The unfortunate bottom line is that, after several years of inquiries, no one has yet been held responsible for the failure of the operation and Terry's resultant death.

'Complete confidence in AG'

During a conference call with state and national media on Wednesday, June 6, Cornyn discussed revelations that newly obtained documents indicate that top officials with the Department of Justice were aware that gun-walking tactics were being used despite a departmental prohibition against the policy. "The president says he still has complete confidence in Attorney General Holder. He may be the only one left who does," Cornyn said.

Texas' soon-to-be-senior senator authored an amendment to the 2012 appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies making it illegal to expend taxpayer money on gun walking. The Senate unanimously passed this amendment on October 18, 2011, and President Barack Obama signed similar language into law on November 18, 2011.

In an earlier letter, Cornyn asked Obama to reinstate the provision, passed unanimously last fall that prevented federal agencies from engaging in the practice of gun walking.

"Though you may have complete confidence in Attorney General Holder's ability to ensure that his department does not carry out further 'gun-walking' programs like Operation Fast and Furious, 99 United States Senators have voted otherwise," Cornyn said.

Wiretap applications

According to Cornyn, Issa recently obtained copies of six wiretap applications utilized during Fast and Furious. In a letter to Holder, Issa described the applications as showing "immense detail about questionable investigative tactics was available to senior officials who reviewed and authorized them."

In March, April, May, June and July 2010, the DOJ approved the six wiretap applications on Holder's behalf.

Interestingly. On Nov. 8, 2011, when testifying before Congress, Holder carefully - and repeatedly - disavowed any knowledge of the contents of the emails.

In part, he said, "I don't have any information that indicates that those wiretap applications had anything in them that talked about the tactics that have made this such a bone of contention and have legitimately raised the concern of members of Congress, as well as those of us in the Justice Department. I'd be surprised if the tactics themselves about gun walking were actually contained in those - in those applications. I have not seen them, but I would be surprised [if] that were the case."

In his letter, Issa charges that senior DOJ officials authorized unacceptable tactics at the expense of public safety.

'Fast & Furious'

In Operation Fast and Furious, DOJ officials knowingly allowed the transfer of approximately 2,000 firearms to suspected drug cartel agents. Additionally, by intentionally breaking off direct surveillance on them, DOJ officials let those weapons "walk" into the hands of criminals. Subsequently, many of the weapons have been discovered at violent crime scenes on both sides of the United States-Mexico border - including two AK-47s used in the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Terry.

Issa wrote, "Even a perfunctory review of the wiretap applications amply demonstrates the immense detail documenting gun waking tactics that should have prompted senior officials in the Criminal Division to shut down the program immediately."

He continued, "In light of the information contained in these wiretaps, senior Department officials can no longer disclaim responsibility for failing to shut down Fast and Furious because they were unaware of the tactic used."

In a May 15, 2012, email obtained by the committee, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote, "Considerations of public safety do not appear to have been taking into account in formulating and carrying out the investigative plan for the Operation."

'You resist coming clean'

According to Issa, ATF officials, not those in the DOJ, pulled the plug on the failed gun walking operation. ATF Deputy Director William Hoover demanded an exit strategy to allow Fast and Furious to be shut down as soon as possible, but DOJ leaders "rubber-stamped the operation and authorized its unacceptable tactics."

The operation became problematic due to the large number of high-powered weapons involved, short time-to-crime aspects of the purchases, repeated straw purchasing and termination of surveillance.

In his call for Holder's resignation, Cornyn cited a litany of actions that - to him, at least - demonstrated that the AG has allowed politics to trump independence, transparency and accountability.

"You still resist coming clean about what you knew and when you knew it with regard to Operation Fast and Furious. You won't cooperate with a legitimate Congressional investigation, and you won't hold anyone, including yourself, accountable," Cornyn wrote.

"So, Mr. Attorney General, it's more with sorrow than anger that I would say you leave me with no alternative but to join those who call upon you to resign your office."

Pictured: Courtesy photo
At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, June 12, Senator John Cornyn publically called for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder because of Holder's "repeated violations of the public trust and, in my view, by failing and refusing to perform the duties of your office."