House panel sees White House gun­run­ning cover-up

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JERRY SEPER

The House com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gat­ing Fast and Fu­ri­ous has re­ceived more than 7,600 doc­u­ments from the Jus­tice Depart­ment, but Repub­li­can law­mak­ers say none ad­dresses who ap­proved the gun­run­ning probe, who failed to stop it be­fore a U.S. Border Pa­trol agent was killed and why depart­ment of­fi­cials ini­tially lied to Congress about it.

Now the panel has its sights set on an ad­di­tional 1,300 pages of doc­u­ments it be­lieves will an­swer those ques­tions and also ex­pose a po­lit­i­cal cover-up at Jus­tice.

Nev­er­the­less, the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee’s quest for records got more com­pli­cated last week when Pres­i­dent Obama as­serted ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege and re­fused to turn them over — and the com­mit­tee in turn voted to rec­om­mend hold­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. in con­tempt of Congress.

Together, they are the crux of what has be­come the big­gest sep­a­ra­tion-of-pow­ers bat­tle of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

House Speaker John A. Boehner said June 21 that the pres­i­dent’s play proves the White House was in­volved in the coverup.

“The de­ci­sion to in­voke ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege is an ad­mis­sion that White House of­fi­cials were in­volved in de­ci­sions that mis­led the Congress and have cov­ered up the truth,” the Ohio Republi- can told re­porters. “So what is the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion hid­ing in Fast and Fu­ri­ous?”

White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney called the House com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and its party-line vote on June 20 for a con­tempt of Congress ci­ta­tion a “fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion,” adding that it was “un­nec­es­sary and un­wor­thy of Congress.”

Mr. Car­ney said Jus­tice has “pro­vided Congress ev­ery doc­u­ment” that per­tains to the Fast and Fu­ri­ous op­er­a­tion it­self.

“Hog­wash,” said Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa, rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee who first be­gan the Fast and Fu­ri­ous probe. “Through my in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I know there are reams of doc­u­ments re­lated to the ‘op­er­a­tion it­self’ that the Jus­tice Depart­ment has re­fused to turn over to Congress.”

Ac­cord­ing to the com­mit­tee, it has “not only a right, but an obli­ga­tion” to do all it can to ex­am­ine the depart­ment’s sus­pected mis­man­age­ment in its re­sponse to the un­usual pro­gram that put thou­sands of guns in the hands of Mex­ico’s vi­o­lent drug car­tels.

The com­mit­tee said it is con­cerned about and wants to see doc­u­ments out­lin­ing con­tin­ued com­plaints by whistle­blow­ers that they faced re­tal­i­a­tion af­ter tes­ti­fy­ing about the pro­gram; al­le­ga­tions by the former act­ing direc­tor of the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives (ATF) that Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials sought to pro­tect po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees; and the nine-month de­lay be­fore the de- part­ment for­mally with­drew its false de­nial to Congress about al­low­ing guns to flow over the border to Mex­ico.

In a Feb. 4, 2011, let­ter to Mr. Grass­ley, As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ron­ald We­ich said the depart­ment did not al­low guns to be “walked” to drug smug­glers in Mex­ico dur­ing Fast and Fu­ri­ous.

Mr. We­ich, who re­signed last week, said whistle­blower ac­cu­sa­tions that ATF al­lowed the sale of as­sault weapons to a straw pur­chaser who then trans­ported them to Mex­ico were “false,” adding that the agency “makes ev­ery ef­fort to in­ter­dict weapons that have been pur­chased il­le­gally and pre­vent their trans­porta­tion into Mex­ico.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment re­tracted that let­ter in De­cem­ber, with Mr. Holder say­ing Mr. We­ich did not know the in­for­ma­tion he had pro­vided was in­ac­cu­rate. In a Dec. 2 let­ter, the depart­ment for­mally with­drew the We­ich de­nial and ac­knowl­edged that Fast and Fu­ri­ous was “fun­da­men­tally flawed.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment has taken the po­si­tion that it will not share in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions re­lated to Fast and Fu­ri­ous that oc­curred af­ter the We­ich let­ter. In March, Mr. We­ich re­fused a con­gres­sional sub­poena for Fast and Fu­ri­ous doc­u­ments, say­ing the depart­ment was con­cerned that in­for­ma­tion in them had been and would be re­leased to the me­dia. He said news sto­ries at the time “im­peded the depart­ment’s ef­forts to hold in­di­vid­u­als ac­count­able for their il­le­gal acts.”

The depart­ment also main­tains that the pro­gram was cre­ated by an ATF re­gional of­fice to see whether it could track weapons il­le­gally sold in the U.S. to drug smug­glers in Mex­ico. Eigh­teen months ago — well into the op­er­a­tion — weapons pur­chased by straw buy­ers in Fast and Fu­ri­ous were found at the site of the shoot­ing death of Border Pa­trol Agent Brian A. Terry.

But the com­mit­tee, ac­cord­ing to a May 3 memo, does not be­lieve Fast and Fu­ri­ous was “a local ef­fort,” de­scrib­ing it as the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s “flag­ship arms traf­fick­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion for a year and a half.” The memo said the depart­ment’s Wash­ing­ton head­quar­ters ap­proved it as part of its Or­ga­nized Crime Drug En­force­ment Task Force (OCDETF) pro­gram that put it un­der the con­trol of the Ari­zona U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

The memo said the OCDETF des­ig­na­tion meant Fast and Fu­ri­ous was able to use ad­vanced in­ves­tiga­tive tech­niques, such as wire­taps, which by law re­quired se­nior depart­ment of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton to re­view op­er­a­tional de­tails.

The com­mit­tee also has said that some se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials helped write the Feb. 4, 2011, We­ich let­ter but later had to ac­knowl­edge that they did know about gun­walk­ing — although not the crit­i­cal de­tails about the gun­walk­ing that took place in Fast and Fu­ri­ous.

“Th­ese de­nials are pe­cu­liar be­cause top of­fi­cials across the Jus­tice Depart­ment re­ceived brief­ings on Op­er­a­tion Fast and Fu­ri­ous that in­cluded both in­for­ma­tion on sur­veil­lance tech­niques and the fact that hun­dreds of weapons were turn­ing up at crime scenes in Mex­ico,” the memo said.

Tom Fit­ton, pres­i­dent of Wash­ing­ton-based Ju­di­cial Watch, a watch­dog group that has filed a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act law­suit against ATF for Fast and Fu­ri­ous doc­u­ments, said the com­mit­tee’s con­tempt ci­ta­tion “clearly lays out that Congress wants to know what the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion knew and when it knew it about Fast and Fu­ri­ous.

“There is no ev­i­dence that [Rep. Dar­rell E.] Issa wants to mess up any crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Mr. Fit­ton said. “The only crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion the Obama gang is wor­ried about is the po­ten­tial one over Mr. Holder’s con­tempt.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Obama’s Water­gate? At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. pre­pares to tes­tify on Capi­tol Hill June 12 be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciar y Com­mit­tee hear­ing look­ing into na­tional security leaks.

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