House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) strongly signaled that this week’s investigative report fingering 14 federal agents and prosecutors for wrongdoing in Operation Fast and Furious isn’t the end of the congressional probe into the botched gun-walking case.
But to “perhaps eliminate the need for a protracted fight in the courts,” Issa noted, the committee is hoping “we will in the coming days see a level of cooperation we have not thus seen.”
“It would be hopeful that that kind of willingness to have our investigators see what you have seen, would in fact allow this to come to a quicker close,” the chairman said to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the sole witness at today’s hearing to review the findings of his investigation.
“I want to congratulate him on in fact delivering an extremely comprehensive, strong and independent report. … Although this report will not bring a complete end to the need for us to work with Justice to bring genuine reform to their process, it goes a long way toward that,” Issa said at the opening of the proceedings.
“The conclusions after 19 months of hard work, of course, are greater than some would want and fall short of what others would want. They cannot by definition bring complete closure, because even the I.G. in his report still has some questions,” he continued. “There were some individuals and some documents that are not yet available. But like any document, you have to, at some point, cut it off, come as you are and bring what you have. I think this was the appropriate time.”
Issa later noted in a line of Democratic questioning that the report was “thorough at the minimum possible number of pages.”
And heavy emphasis was placed on pages requested in very public battles between the Oversight panel and Attorney General Eric Holder’s department.
“I will particularly note that I’m pleased that in some cases, the executive privilege invalidly claimed by the president of the United States was not asserted in this discovery,” Issa said. “Some materials contained in this report do help us, because they are, in fact, many of the items that we wish we have received, in some cases were told we received, but, in fact, we later found were provided to the I.G. and not to us.”
“Nothing in this report vindicates anyone. If you touched, looked, could have touched, could have looked, could have asked for information that could have caused you to intervene, to complain, to worry, to talk to people and you didn’t and you are in our government, or even if you aren’t in our government but were aware of it, you fell short of your responsibility.”
Horowitz’s team reviewed more than 100,000 pages of documents and interviewed 130 witnesses in compiling the report.
“They did it under the microscope of a highly politicized environment in which public accusations were sometimes made before the search for evidence even began,” said Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
Cummings noted that he has had disagreements with Issa over the process, but commended the chairman as the committee uncovered “a severe problem that was festering since 2006.”
“I also want to commend the attorney general. I have lost count of how many times he has testified on this issue, but he has remained even-handed, respectful, and always true to the daunting and critical mission of the department he leads,” Cummings said. “He requested this I.G. investigation, and he has already put numerous reforms in place.”
“…I’ve always believed, and I continue to believe that the committee and the department can resolve any lingering issues without further conflict.”
Horowitz told the committee that his team “abided by one bedrock principle: to follow the facts and the evidence wherever they led.”
“We also did not find any persuasive evidence that supervisors in Phoenix, at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or at ATF headquarters raised serious questions or concerns about the risks to the public safety, posed by the continuing firearm purchases or by the delay in arresting individuals who were engaged in the trafficking activity,” he said.
“…Our review revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgments and management failures that permeated ATF headquarters and the Phoenix field division as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the headquarters of the Department of Justice.”
Sitting in on the hearing was Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), who said that slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s family told him “that they may well have been deliberately kept in the dark about Brian’s death, and the circumstances surrounding it.”
“I don’t recall us seeing evidence of discussions specifically about what to tell the Terry family,” Horowitz said.
Issa noted that the committee received fewer than 8,000 pages of documents and asked Horowitz if any of the documents that he saw, including the post-Feb. 4 pages long-requested and long-denied to Issa, should be withheld from Congress.
“Every document we asked for and reviewed and cited in this report we found to be relevant and important,” the I.G. said.