Attorney General Eric Holder frustrated his most fierce Capitol Hill accuser and other GOP lawmakers Thursday when asked about the Justice Department’s Fast and Furious weapons sting and which high-ranking Obama administration officials knew about the botched operation.
Holder sidestepped questions by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa about whether he or other Justice Department officials had even started to pull together Fast and Furious documents requested in an October 2011 subpoena Issa sent the agency.
“Nothing has come from your department, not a shred of paper,” Issa said tersely during a House Judiciary Committee meeting.
Issa, R-Calif., is a member of the committee. He also is the chairman of the chamber’s Committee on Oversight and Government Affairs, from which he issued the subpoena. The requests were largely related to an ill-conceived and executed Fast and Furious tactic known as “gunwalking,” which has been linked to the 2010 death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
“You are not a good witness,” Issa said in frustration, after Holder essentially repeated his questions.
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When admonished for not letting Holder answer questions and taking a sharp tone, Issa replied, “I applaud there was hostility,” frustrated he had only five minutes to ask questions.
Issa has vowed to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to respond to the subpoena. Holder has testified he has given congressional investigators the requisite information.
On Monday, Issa released information about six wiretap applications that he says prove high-ranking Justice Department officials knew about the gunwalking tactic.
Issa says the applications were signed by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Holder’s second in command.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said high-level Justice Department officials had no specific knowledge of the gunwalking tactic.
Holder has testified at least seven times before Congress on Fast and Furious and has acknowledged the program’s failures.
“We now know … inappropriate tactics were used in an attempt to stem the flow of illegal guns across the Southwest border,” he said Thursday in opening remarks. “Although these law enforcement operations … were focused on the laudable goal of dismantling illegal gun trafficking networks, they were flawed in both concept and execution.”
The Justice Department responded to Issa’s interpretation of the wiretap applications in a letter saying the agency disagrees with his assertion but is “legally prohibited from commenting on the content of sealed court documents."
The gunwalking tactic had the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona stage gun sales across the Mexico border with alleged arms dealers, with the hope that the thousands of weapons would lead to organizers of drug cartels. However, the guns purportedly were used in street crimes, and one was allegedly found after a shootout in which U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.
In another tense exchange Thursday, GOP Rep. Lamar Smith asked Holder whether he or anybody else told the White House about so-called “gunwalking tactic” after it appeared to contribute to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, Holder replied “I don’t know.”
The exchange occurred during a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee, on which Smith is the chairman.
“When was anyone in the White House informed of the tactics used under Operation Fast and Furious?” asked Smith, R-Texas.
Holder replied: “I don't know.”
When Smith asked Holder if he personally told the White House, Holder replied: “There was contact between staff. .. I don't myself remember any direct contact.”