OTR Interviews

'Fast and Furious' Coverup at Justice Department?

Rep. Issa details concerns over new details in botched ATF gun running operation. Is a special prosecutor needed?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The "Fast and Furious" operation scandal -- it just got hotter! Tonight, we learn about secret audiotapes. Not only did a gun seller secretly tape the ATF agent, but Congressman Darrell Issa has those tapes. Congressman Issa spoke with us a short time ago.


VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, nice to see you, sir.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-CALIF.: Thank you, Greta. Thanks for coming out to the Hill.

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, happy to be here. I come here every day, as a matter of fact. All right, now you're doing the "Fast and Furious" investigation, the oversight. Tell me, is the Department of Justice 100 percent cooperating with you?

ISSA: Closer to zero percent. This has continued to be frustrating that as the Mexican government tells us publicly they're being kept in the dark, we can't give them information from the Department of Justice. We can only give them information we're getting from whistleblowers. And we're getting a lot.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why isn't the Justice Department cooperating? I assume that you send communications over to them or make phone calls and say, What's up?

ISSA: We try. We send communications, including subpoenas. This is one of those situations in which they haven't admitted that they let guns walk, even though there's no credible way to say that they didn't not just let them walk, but let them run. We have one sale -- one group of sales of over 700 to just one straw buyer. What do you mean you didn't know where these things were going?

VAN SUSTEREN: How many people estimated now have been murdered as a result of this -- this "Fast and Furious," the guns going from the United States to Mexico?

ISSA: Well, the LA Times has a number of about 150.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's horrible!

ISSA: One is horrible. Brian Terry being gunned down in Arizona...


ISSA: A border patrol agent being gunned down in the prime of life is too much. One Mexican citizen having to face weapons that should not have gotten to drug lords is too much. More importantly, out of 2,000-plus weapons, most of them are still unaccounted for. They will over time kill again.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, whose idea was this program? Have you figured that out? How high up was it authorized?

ISSA: Well, those are two separate questions. It could well have been thought of at a very low level by an ambitious ATF agent. And it appears as though it may have been. But it had to be approved by the top levels of Justice.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's top level?

ISSA: Lanny Brewer, people involved in this, because this was a joint exercise. It required funding and coordination with virtually all of law enforcement.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, why -- I mean, when you send information -- or I take it you want to know how high up it went and so that we can even begin to investigate, you know, how it went off the rails, or whether -- you know, where it went bad, where it went south.

ISSA: Well, Greta, as you know, we're the Oversight and Reform Committee. We don't get reform until you get an admission that this kind of thing shouldn't have happened and then you start looking at how it won't happen again. We're not looking to go as high as we can for the sake of going high. We want to know where the safeguards have to be put in place so this can never be approved at any level but certainly not in the hierarchy of the Justice Department.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, do you think this was a good idea, this program?

ISSA: Couldn't have been worse.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, so doesn't it make a difference how high it goes so we know who had the bad judgment so at least we can have a talk with the person so he or she doesn't exercise that bad judgment again?

ISSA: Well, the Justice Department has chosen to reassign, accept resignations of some of the people that were clearly involved. That's probably good judgment on their part. But if they cannot look inward, if the IG cannot look inward and say, Here are the additional systems and people who broke down, and do the same thing, we have a big problem especially when the Mexican government, the attorney general and others, are calling this a betrayal, and it could affect the cooperation we need in order to intercept drugs that are killing an estimated 44,000 people in Mexico due to violence.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, here's where I sort of differ with you, is I think we do need to know how high it went up because oftentimes in this city -- I'm not saying it happened this time -- but that sometimes middle- level people are made scapegoats for the decisions that are made above. So it makes sense to find out who lacks the good judgment.

If this is a bad judgment idea, and that's what you say it is and I think many people agree, is we ought to -- I mean, you know, we ought to lay the cards on the table, find out who did -- not necessarily, you know, have someone's head, but a least know, you know, where did this originate? Why did someone think it was originally a good idea? Where did it go south so that we can do the reform.

ISSA: Well, I couldn't agree with you more. I call this felony stupid at all levels, at any level that thought it was a good idea. Ultimately, you're right. We do need to get to the top decision maker because that person is dangerous for having this kind of thought being an acceptable program.

Again, though, the real question is where did the safeguards break down? In Iran-contra, we had an Ollie North who went through excruciating detail of how proud he was about this and why he thought he was doing the right thing. Here, we have everyone saying, It didn't happen, It didn't happen, as we get tapes, we get e-mails and we get more knowledge of how widespread it was, including the deliberate denial of the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City of the opportunity to know about this program. His ATF people didn't know it. His DEA people didn't know it because they were kept in the dark so they wouldn't tell the ambassador.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, there's a tape, though. That's one problem, right? Tell me about this tape.

ISSA: Well, this tape is both a solution in that it tells lot, but it's a problem in that...

VAN SUSTEREN: What is it, though? Tell -- I mean, tell me what it is. Who got taped?

ISSA: The agent in charge was taped by the licensed gun dealer who was concerned that he was being set up. That was delivered to the inspector general back in June specifically as part of cooperation. Within virtually minutes, without the inspector general ever listening to the tape, it was forwarded to the Justice Department, who then forwarded it to the object of the investigation, the actual agent in charge, meaning it ultimately became an obstruction of our investigation by the very people that we were looking to help us with our investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Justice knew about it in June. When did you learn about this tape that tracks this whole little episode of selling guns?

ISSA: We knew about it. We had copies of it.


ISSA: We had it before Justice had it, before the IG had it...

VAN SUSTEREN: Before June.

ISSA: Before June.


ISSA: But part of what we were doing -- and Greta, I know you have a strong history as an attorney. We wanted to interview that agent without that agent knowing what we knew. Ultimately, we've been denied that. We were delaying that evidence and that interview out of deference to the ongoing prosecutions. But ultimately, we were betrayed by the Justice Department delivering it to that agent so that we no longer get a fair right to have an interview where we know things that that person doesn't.

VAN SUSTEREN: One quick question. Is this -- I mean, let me use the word that we all want. It is a coverup?

ISSA: Ultimately, when you delay and deter us getting to the facts, it's a coverup. It's one that can be remedied, but so far, we see no willingness by Attorney General Holder to tell his people to cooperate. Just the opposite. We're still being stonewalled.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is so foolish because, you know, if it's ultimately going to come out, when you look like you're stonewalling, if you're dragging your feet, I mean, it begins to look so much bigger than it is and you begin to look like you're doing everything to cover it up.

ISSA: Exactly right. If this had been quickly explained, including people taking the fall, if you will, for what they've done wrong at the highest levels, this would have been a story that would never have gotten traction. Today it's got international traction, and it shouldn't because, ultimately, it was so stupid that people should have quickly said, We shouldn't have done it, we're sorry and heads will roll. Just the opposite. We think there's protections of people at the top.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, thank you, sir.

ISSA: Thank you, Greta.