A House investigative committee said Tuesday it has obtained new information from wiretaps related to the Obama administration’s Operation Fast and Furious that suggests high-ranking officials know more than they are telling Congress about the flawed weapons sting.
The announcement appears to be the latest attempt by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to press U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder into providing Congress with more information about the operation and an account of which officials knew about any problems -- and when.
“The wiretap applications show that immense detail about questionable investigative tactics was available to the senior officials who reviewed and authorized them,” Issa said in a June 5 letter to Holder. “The close involvement of these officials -- much greater than previously known -- is shocking.”
The targets of "Fast and Furious" bought nearly 2,000 weapons over several months. For reasons that are still in dispute, most of those weapons were never followed. High-powered weapons tied to the investigation ended up at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States, including the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
The wiretaps were intended to allow investigators in Arizona to listen to the phone calls of suspects as part of the strategy to reveal evidence of involvement by high-level Mexican cartel associates. The six applications for wiretaps, which have been sealed by a federal judge, detail specific actions taken by agents involved in the operation, the GOP-controlled committee said in a statement.
The information shows the officials made “conscious decisions” not to interdict weapons that agents knew were illegally purchased by smugglers taking weapons to Mexico, according to the statement.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, said Tuesday that he is concerned about Issa's possible mis-characterization of the "contents and significance" of the wiretap- related documents.
In a 10-page letter, Cummings tells Issa that he omitted a critical fact and that the omission "completely undermines your conclusion." The information in dispute was redacted.
Cummings also said the "undisputed fact" before the committee is that senior Justice Department officials never saw the wiretap applications. Cummings says the summaries of the applications were prepared by federal attorneys and reviewed by deputy assistant attorneys general, standard practice in previous Democrat and Republican administrations.
Holder has said he has given congressional investigators all of the relevant information.
Issa, R-Calif., issues a subpoena in October 2011 for the remaining documents and last month asked House Speaker John Boehner to support his plans to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to meet the subpoena deadline.
The committee also said the information in the wiretaps had been requested in the subpoena. The content of the wiretaps cannot be made public because they are sealed.
The Justice Department said it cannot comment on the contents of court-sealed applications but directly challenged Issa and expressed concern about documents related to ongoing criminal cases being leaked.
“Chairman Issa continues to distort the facts and ignore the law," said agency spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler. “Senior Justice Department officials were not aware of the flawed tactics in Fast and Furious until they became public in early 2011."
Schmaler said the unauthorized disclosure of such materials is illegal.
"The committee also knows full well that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer did not review the wiretap applications in Fast and Furious," she said. "That does not stop the committee, however, from falsely asserting ...Breuer was 'responsible for' authorizing them."
Mike Levine contributed to this report.