Friday, October 14, 2011

Operation Fast and Furious LXXII

In Holder Subpoena, Issa Also Probes White House Press Aide

by Jonathan Strong

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) made headlines this week byissuing a subpoena for documents from Attorney General Eric Holderabout a botched weapons investigation, but Holder is apparently not Issa’s only target.
A little-noticed provision of the subpoena targets the White House, specifically naming Eric Schultz, a communications aide who was hired in May to respond to media inquiries on oversight matters.
Issa issued the subpoena as part of his investigation into a program called Fast and Furious, which whistle-blowers have described as allowing assault weapons and military-grade sniper rifles to transfer into criminal networks.
The subpoena demands “all communications” to or from Holder and 15 other top Justice Department officials on Fast and Furious, as well as every weekly update memo to Holder on any topic over a nearly two-year period. Issa contends that Holder may have learned about the program much earlier than he has acknowledged, and the California Republican been conducting a blitz of media interviews making that point.
The subpoena also requires Holder to produce “all communications between and among Department of Justice (DOJ) employees and Executive Office of the President employees, including but not limited to Associate Communications Director Eric Schultz, referring or relating to Operation Fast and Furious or any other firearms trafficking cases.”
“We know there were communications that did go to the White House on Fast and Furious. We’ve been told that they were personal communications that just happened to occur. We wanted an official assurance on that,” Issa told Roll Call on Wednesday, jokingly referring to Schultz as “my friend.”
But a GOP source familiar with the committee’s investigation said there was more to the request.
“The question is whether the White House has been instructing the Justice Department on what [documents] to release,” the source said.
The source added that recent allegations by a CBS reporter that Schultz yelled at her over her coverage of Fast and Furious in part prompted Issa’s questions on the matter, but the source maintained that the inquiry is unrelated to Schultz’s communications with reporters.
“This investigation is focused on discussions and communications among officials and not their interactions with outside parties, including reporters,” the source said.
This source noted that “there’s nothing necessarily inappropriate about the White House playing some role” but added that the documents produced by the subpoena will provide a fuller picture of what interaction is taking place.
A lawyer close to the Obama administration said it would not be unusual for the Justice Department to keep the White House informed of how it is responding to Issa’s document demands or to give the White House a heads-up before documents involving White House personnel are sent to Congressional investigators.  
But Democrats familiar with the investigation scoffed at the idea that a member of the White House communications staff is telling the Justice Department how to respond to Issa’s document demands.
Other portions of the subpoena also appear to reach beyond Holder’s involvement in the program.
For instance, the subpoena demands that the Justice Department provide all photographs of the crime scene of the slaying of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata and “surveillance tapes recorded by pole cameras inside the Lone Wolf Trading Co. store between 12:00 a.m. on October 3, 2010 and 12:00 a.m. on October 7, 2010.” Both the store and Zapata’s slaying have been linked to the Fast and Furious operation.
Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings assailed Issa’s document demands. “This subpoena is a deep-sea fishing expedition and a gross abuse of the committee’s authority,” the Maryland Democrat said. “It demands tens of thousands of pages of highly sensitive law enforcement and national security materials that have never been requested before and are completely unrelated to Operation Fast and Furious. Rather than legitimate fact-gathering, this looks more like a political stunt.”
Sen. Grassley to ask for resignation of highest-level person who signed off on Fast and Furious
by Matthew Boyle
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley told The Daily Caller on Thursday that he’ll call for the resignation of the highest-level government official who signed off on Operation Fast and Furious. At this point, though, he’s not sold on whether that person is Attorney General Eric Holder.
“I’m not going to ask for anybody’s resignation until I find out who signed off on this at the highest level of government — and then I’m going to ask for that person’s resignation,” Grassley said in a phone interview.
When TheDC asked Grassley if he thought Holder signed off on Fast and Furious, or at least knew about it, he wasn’t sure. “We’re going to answer that question before we stop this investigation,” Grassley said. “All I can say is, if [Holder] didn’t know about it, he should’ve known about it.”
Grassley, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also told TheDC he thinks the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious will carry into next year. Seeing as 2012 is a presidential election year, Fast and Furious may become a campaign issue for President Barack Obama.
At least three members of Congress have directly called for Holder’s resignation. They are Reps. Paul Gosar, Raul Labrador and Blake Farenthold.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler has not returned TheDC’s requests for comment about the calls for Holder’s resignation.
Another reason Fast and Furious might become a 2012 campaign issue is Maryland Republican Senate candidate Dan Bongino, an ex-Secret Service agent who used to guard Obama. Bongino went on record with TheDC about DOJ reforms he’d like to see post-Fast and Furious. (RELATED: Issa subpoenas Justice Department over Fast and Furious)
Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is expected to bring Holder before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, soon. But his staff won’t answer whether he thinks Fast and Furious is important enough for its own hearings. Instead, a spokesman said that senators can ask Holder about it at a general Judiciary Committee hearing.
“It would be nice if Chairman Leahy would do it [hold Senate hearings specific to Fast and Furious], but he’s not going to do that,” Grassley said.
Because Grassley is in the minority party in the Senate, he doesn’t have subpoena power. But, from the House side, Rep. Darrell Issa does have subpoena power and can compel Holder and the DOJ to offer up documents and other information.

Who will pay price for Fast and Furious?

by Ruben Navarrette Jr

(CNN) -- Let's understand what all the fuss is about with the Obama administration's ill-conceived "Fast and Furious" operation -- or rather what it should be about. It's not about assigning blame, or playing "gotcha," or covering up mistakes. It's not about Republican critics forcing top administration officials to resign, or those officials spinning whatever fantastic narratives are necessary to avoid doing so. It's about who pays the price when government agencies make bad decisions.
When field agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives deliberately allowed some 2,000 guns to "walk" into Mexico from gun shops in Arizona as part of a harebrained and hazardous scheme to track Mexican drug cartels, and then lost track of the cargo, they set in motion a deadly series of events. Before long, guns from the operation were showing up at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
When one government agency screws up, other agencies sometimes pay the price. One of the weapons even showed up at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
But by far, the group that paid the heaviest price for this doomed initiative is the Mexican people. There is no way to know how many Mexicans died at the hands of criminals armed with weapons supplied courtesy of the ATF, but Carlos Canino, an ATF agent at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, reportedly testified to congressional investigators that Fast and Furious guns showed up at nearly 200 crime scenes.
This scandal is about dead Mexicans.
As politicians in Washington have been known to ask: Where's the outrage? There isn't much of it, and what little there is seems to be reserved for political adversaries.
Republicans, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have expressed outrage that the administration spent months stonewalling an investigation into the program by refusing to honor requests for information.
More recently, they're questioning whether Attorney General Eric Holder might have committed perjury when -- after being asked by the committee in May 2011 when he had learned of the operation --he responded: "I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."
Internal e-mails obtained by CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson -- whomonths ago was the first reporter to break this story on a major network with the help of ATF whistle-blowers -- suggest otherwise. The e-mails show that Holder was given regular briefings on the program as far back as July 2010. That would appear to contradict his testimony to Congress.
When Attkisson asked Justice Department officials about the apparent contradiction, their initial response was to claim that the e-mails in question were about a different operation that started before Holder took office. Then they shifted gears and claimed that Holder misunderstood the question. He did know about Fast and Furious, they said, just not the details. More recently, the administration has shifted gears once again and apparently decided that the best defense is a good offense.
Not surprisingly, Attkisson is now intensely unpopular with both the Justice Department and White House. The reporter told radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham that -- as she worked the story -- a woman from the Justice Department (whom she identified as Tracy Schmaler) "was just yelling at me" and that someone from the White House (whom she identified as Eric Schultz) "screamed at me and cussed at me."
Last week, Holder went on the attack. He lashed out at Issa and other Republican critics of his handling of the operation, charging them with using "irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric." And he urged people in both parties to repudiate such language "in the strongest possible terms."
Holder also insisted: "My testimony was truthful and accurate. ... I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation."
At this rate, who knows what the attorney general's next strategy will be? We're going to find out. Issa has subpoenaed Holder to appear before his committee again.
Bully for Issa. We need to get to the bottom of this scandal, and if the administration isn't cooperating, there is all the more reason to keep digging. That also goes for Attkisson and CBS News, who have done first-rate work.
Frankly, I am surprised by Holder's use of words such as "irresponsible" and "inflammatory." What could be more irresponsible than allowing weapons to be smuggled into a foreign country, weapons that then wind up killing the citizens of that country? And what could be more inflammatory than appearing to cover up such an operation and distancing oneself from it as staffers allegedly yell, scream and curse at reporters who are just doing their jobs?
And what was the purpose of these alleged theatrics? Was all this huffing and puffing intended to get Attkisson to back off the story? Brilliant.
As a former reporter, let me give the administration a tip: Attacking journalists is usually as effective in stamping out a story as gasoline is in putting out a fire.

No comments:

Post a Comment