OTR Interviews

Issa: Still Many Questions About 'Fast and Furious,' Fears of Scandal Sequel

Rep. Darrell Issa sounds off on reassignments and firings tied to the botched gun-running program.

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 30, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: There's new fallout from the very controversial operation "Fast and Furious." The government program has sent thousands of guns into Mexico right into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. ATF officers were hoping the operation would lead them to the cartels, but the plan backfired big time, including one of those weapons found at the scene of the murder of one of our U.S. border patrol agents. Agent Brian Terry was gunned down near the border. Two weapons found near his body were linked to the failed operation.

"Operation Fast and Furious" instantly became the focus of a Congressional investigation. Tonight there are new developments all happening inside the Justice Department. Joining us is Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Good evening, Congressman. First, the question, how high up was "Fast and Furious" authorized?

REP. DARRELL ISSA, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: It certainly goes much higher than the three individuals who were transferred or dismissed today. And more importantly, those higher up have not yet said how they are going to make sure this doesn't happen again.

And Greta, it's that second part that I think the American people have to be concerned with. Bad things happen, but they shouldn't happen twice. Right now, we are afraid this same sort of a failed program could go on again.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's not only that, but we are talking about Mexico, the place where few people want to admit a war is going on right on our border with enormous consequences here in the United States and humanitarian issues as well in Mexico. But the fact this program, it seems like an unorthodox way to solve the problem by sending guns to Mexico and hopefully we can track them down later.

And so it does matter who is the one who pulled the trigger, who green lighted it, because that person's judgment may not be the wisest and maybe that person should be reassigned. So how high up?

ISSA: Greta, you are exactly right. Certainly as high as Lanny Brewer, who thought it was a pretty good program, just poorly executed.

And more importantly, two triggers. The people who authorized it, and we're going to get to the bottom of it. But, you know, Brian Terry's family, his mother, his siblings, they've never gotten a fair recognition of who is responsible. There are people who were part of the chain of those weapons that ultimately killed Brian Terry who have not been charged with any crime of this magnitude, and that's one of the things that the U.S. Attorney Burke that we had a problem with. It seemed like he orchestrated this program, and then he didn't want to really do the kind of enforcement for those responsible. And that's what we are hoping will change under a new U.S. attorney.

VAN SUSTEREN: I have some of the sense that Ken Melson, acting director of ATF who has been reassigned. He was a former United States attorney in Washington, D.C. area in Virginia. He has a great reputation. And I know that he has been helpful to your investigation. It seems like he's been made the sacrificial lamb by being reassigned. Am I wrong?

ISSA: No, I don't think so. I think reassignment from a position in which he was at least partially responsible is probably appropriate. At the same time he's cooperated, he's been helpful. And I'll never forget when he said specifically about when he began seeing certain information that was withheld from AFT, including him, that had he known that he wouldn't have allowed it, and he was sick to his stomach when he read it. Then he began trying to get this program shutdown.

So I think we have to balance the fact we need a good director. We need one that is Senate confirmed, not just acting. At the same time, the U.S. attorney being, let's just say allowed to resign, we also think is probably appropriate. We need to have real independent eyes looking at how this happened. Unfortunately, one of the problems is some of the eyes that are watching this are high up in Eric Holder's office and had a lot to do with this happening.

VAN SUSTEREN: In your role, do you intend to move on now or is this an ongoing investigation?

ISSA: Greta, there's two things we have to do to wrap up this investigation. First of all, we have to get to those responsible, which means we need the cooperation and discovery we haven't been getting. Almost everything we have and almost everything Senator Grassley has we have gotten from third parties who have given it to us at great risk.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can I stop you there. Why are they not giving it to you. Don't you have the authority to ask?

ISSA: We've issued lawful subpoenas, and they have thwarted at best, often giving us information that is so redacted it is just black pieces of paper that used to be white before they put lines through it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you feeling gamed? There is legitimate stuff that needs to be kept out of public domain. There is also gaming someone. Are you being gamed, or is this legitimate stuff you feel like -- you can tell by looking at some of it?

ISSA: This is one of the problems. We have information given by third parties then redacted when the administration gave us their version. We know we are being gamed and we think the time for the game should be up.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you spoken to the attorney general and said let's stop let me have what I can have?

ISSA: I have an arrangement to meet with the attorney general when I get back to Washington. Actually there was a request for me to have a conference call with him today or tomorrow. And I chose to wait until we get back because I do think now we need to work together jointly to get this investigation wrapped up with some satisfactory conclusions that we are not heading toward now.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about those missing weapons? Do we think they are in the hands of the cartel or other lawful citizens?

ISSA: No, they in the hands of the cartel. We have confidential sources that have shown us why the administration's representatives knew these weapons were going to the cartels. Not mostly, not maybe, but virtually all of them. They knew that in the chain.

And that's one of the reasons we can't give up on this investigation is we know what they are not telling us. And we need to have the cooperation that we don't yet have. Certainly, for Brian Terry's family, they need to know this can never happen again.

VAN SUSTEREN: Also for those who are being reassigned and scapegoated, we need that for them too that is not right if that is happening to them. Congressman, thank you, sir.

ISSA: Thank you.