As reported on these pages two days ago, Eric Holder lied in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2011 when he said, "I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks." Documents now in the public domain indicate that Holder was extensively briefed numerous times months before the May 2011 Congressional hearing by DOJ officials and had received an official request for an investigation of the ATF gunrunning operation from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on March 9.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice since 2003, and thus is Holder's direct responsibility. The Attorney General's assertion that he had only just learned of Operation Fast and Furious simply doesn't hold up against the facts. Further, it invites the obvious question; "What was he trying to hide, and why?"
Michael Walther, Director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, gave at least five weekly briefings to Holder regarding Fast and Furious beginning in July 2010 according to documents released by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). In the first memo, Walther told Holder straw gun buyers for Fast and Furious "are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels."
Serial numbers were used to trace some of those weapons to the assassination of ATF Agent Brian Terry on December 14, 2010 south of Tucson, Arizona.
In February of 2011, CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson blew the cover on Fast and Furious. (Video here) Aided by anonymous interviews with distraught ATF agents, and whistleblower Agent John Dodson, Attkisson explained the extent of the operation – 2500 weapons according to one agent, including 50 caliber and AK-47 type assault rifles. Repeatedly, agents and cooperating gun dealers raised concerns but were told by superiors to "stand down" and let the massive numbers of weapons "walk" across the border into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.
Two of the guns found at the murder scene of Agent Terry were traced to the 575 AK-47 type rifles purchased by Jaime Avila for "personal use." Avila was on the ATF suspect list for a year before Terry's murder, but the ATF just watched as Avila kept moving loads of weapons. After Terry's murder, the ATF moved in and arrested Avila.
Attkisson's explosive series of reports prompted a strong rebuke from DOJ. In her February 23 exclusive she cites a letter in which the Justice Department claims the ATF "has never knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to suspected gunrunners." Apparently, by that date somebody at the DOJ was aware enough of Fast and Furious to deny that it existed.
Outrage quickly spread about Fast and Furious, and on March 9, 2011 the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (TX) and thirteen other members of the Committee sent a letter to Holder asking for the Inspector General to investigate what had already become a scandal, and for immediate answers to the following questions from the Attorney General himself.
- How many weapons have been allowed to pass to Mexico under the program known as "Fast and Furious"? Is the program still active?
- Who at ATF Headquarters approved the program?
- Who in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the district of Arizona approved the program? On what authority did the Office approve the program?
- Did ATF or the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix coordinate the "Fast and Furious" program with the Department? Did the Department approve the strategy?
- What changes or improvements has ATF made to its eTrace program and its ability to use intelligence to target gun trafficking organizations in general?
- Does ATF view the "Fast and Furious" program as a success?
The Attorney General must not read his own mail – even when it's from Members of Congress with jurisdiction over his Department – because, two months after this letter was sent, the Attorney General told that same Judiciary Committee that he had only just learned of Operation Fast and Furious.
And, now his boss says he believes him.
During a White House press conference today, October 6, President Obama was questioned about Holder's contradictory testimony and the growing scandal. "I have complete confidence in Attorney General Holder," Obama said. "He's indicated that he was not aware of what was happening in Fast and Furious and certainly I was not, and I think both he and I would have been very unhappy if somebody had suggested that guns were allowed to pass through that could have been prevented by the United State of America." See video here
Obama's Fast and Furious Denial doesn't change the facts. Holder obviously did know at least five months before Agent Terry was murdered, and ten months before he perjured himself before a Congressional committee. And, contrary to the President's contention, what Holder knew about Fast and Furious didn't make him "unhappy" enough to do anything to stop the program. In fact, his only action regarding the operation seems to be to cover it up.
How far beyond Holder this scandal extends and how close it gets to the Oval Office is another question. Many members of Congress have already called for a Special Prosecutor to be appointed. That would require the Attorney General to appoint a prosecutor to investigate himself. We'll see how soon that happens.
What should happen immediately is that the heretofore silent Democrat Members of Congress, particularly the Leadership, demand Holder's firing. How can they support a President who continues to defend someone who is indefensible?