Attorney General Eric Holder tangled with a handful of Republicans over Operation Fast and Furious and Florida voter rolls at a hotly anticipated House Judiciary Committee hearing today.
Holder plowed through four hours of testimony before the panel, peppering his responses to lawmakers’ queries with multiple “I don’t knows” and falling similarly short in other responses.
The attorney general, for example, couldn’t remember offhand when Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed by a Fast and Furious gun.
“I think Agent Terry was killed on December 10th or 14th, I believe, of December,” Holder said in response to Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) line of questioning. Terry was shot on Dec. 14, 2010, and died on Dec. 15.
Smith went into the hearing having released an April report detailing what he saw as multiple failings of Holder’s tenure, from Fast and Furious to refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
“Neglecting to enforce or defend the laws enacted by Congress is another violation of the administration’s constitutional obligation to the American people,” Smith said. “Under this president, the Justice Department has engaged in a pattern of selective enforcement of the law in order to advance its own partisan agenda.”
“The administration’s actions aren’t just wrong. They are arrogant, undemocratic, and an insult to the rule of law,” Smith added.
Like a boxer winding up for a prize fight, the anticipation was thick for Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary panel, to confront Holder, who was before the committee for his regular Justice Department oversight appearance.
Two days ago, Issa fired off a biting letter to Holder, rebuking him for misleading congressional investigators even as six wiretap applications in the gun-walking scandal showed “shocking” involvement by Justice officials.
“I’ve sent you a number of letters. Senator Grassley sent you a number of letters. You mentioned in your opening statement the speaker’s letter. The speaker did not limit the scope of the subpoenas you’re under an obligation to respond to. He simply asked you for response to two key areas. He did not revoke any subpoenas. However, you implied that we were working together, when, in fact, since May 18, nothing — nothing has come from your department, not one shred of paper,” Issa began with Holder today.
“I want to ask you, first of all today, have you and your attorneys produced internally the materials responsive to the subpoenas?”
“We believe that we have responded to the subpoenas…” Holder began.
“No, Mr. Attorney General, you’re not a good witness. A good witness answers the question asked,” Issa interrupted. “…Have you taken the time to look up our subpoena and find out what material you have responsive to it, or have you simply invented a privilege that doesn’t exist?’”
“We’ve looked at 240 custodians. We have processed millions of electronic and viewed over 140,000 documents and produced to you about 7,600,” Holder said.
“Look, I don’t want to hear about the 7,600,” Issa retorted, at which point Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) interjected with a parliamentary inquiry to the chairman, prompting Issa to fire “the lady is out of order” in her direction.
“Isn’t it true, Mr. Attorney General, that you have not produced a log of materials withheld, even though our investigators have asked for it?” Issa continued.
“I know that — I’m not sure about that. I know that the…” Holder began.
“OK, I’m sure you didn’t, so let’s move on.”
Issa presented the wiretap applications “which we did not subpoena but which were given to us by a furious group of whistleblowers that are tired of your stonewalling” that indicate administration officials were aware of Fast and Furious tactics.
“I have read them, and I disagree with the conclusion you’ve just reached,” Holder said.
Over a line of questioning regarding departmental responsibility for reviewing the wiretap applications, Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) broke in to ask for regular order.
“I’m in the middle of a question,” Issa said.
“He hasn’t asked the question,” Conyers protested to the chairman.
“I’m halfway through it, if you’ll quit interrupting,” Issa said, trying to proceed as the leading Democrat on the panel kept interjecting.
“I can say that what has happened in connection with Fast and Furious was done in the same way as wiretap applications were done under the previous administration in Wide Receiver,” Holder said, referring to a 2006 ATF gun-walking operation.
Before proceeding to the next lawmaker, Conyers interjected again to ask Smith to chide the panel for being too rough with Holder.
“I think that the previous questioning was the first note of hostility and interruption of the witness that I think has been uncharacteristic of what we’ve been doing here so far today,” Conyers said. “And I’d like to ask the chair to admonish all the witnesses from here on out to please try to — all the members from here on out to please allow the witness to finish his answers.”
“You know, I appreciate that there was hostility between the attorney general and myself,” Issa responded. “I would hope that the ranking member would understand that in fact most of it was produced by the fact that I have a great many questions and a relatively little period of time in which to get answers and that, for a year and a half, my committee, through subpoenas and interrogatories, has been attempting to get answers for which this witness has basically said he asserts a privilege.”
“With all due respect to Chairman Issa, he says there’s hostility between us,” Holder said. “I don’t feel that. …I’m not feeling hostile at all. I’m pretty calm. I’m OK.”