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Gunwalker: Justice Department Tampering with Witnesses?

Darrell Issa and Charles Grassley demand to know about contact DOJ has had with committee witnesses. Also, a source tells PJM: DOJ has picked a new fall guy to target after they failed to topple ATF Director Ken Melson.

by
Patrick Richardson

Bio

July 14, 2011 - 8:40 am

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-IA), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have fired off another pair of letters to Attorney General Eric Holder as part of their investigation into the Operation Fast and Furious debacle, which has claimed the lives of at least two American law enforcement agents and a reported 150 Mexican nationals.

In one letter, Issa and Grassley note that the Department of Justice has been providing information about the program to committee witnesses — which implies tampering. The other letter names DOJ officials who knew about the operation.

Per the tampering letter:

We have recently learned that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATF) has afforded potential witnesses for the Committees’ investigation into Operation Fast and Furious access to a shared drive on its computer system replete with pertinent investigative documents, including official ATF emails. Although, our staff has been advised the Department has since terminated access to this document cache, we write to seek additional information relating to this egregious decision. We also ask that you promptly self-report this matter to the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

As we understand it, the shared drive contains the documents that have been produced to the Committees through the course of our investigation, those made available for in camera review and possibly documents that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not yet provided to the Committee. These witnesses had not previously seen many of these documents.

Allowing witnesses access to such documents could taint their testimony by allowing them to tailor their responses to what they think the Committees already know. Additionally, witnesses who gain access to documents they have not previously seen could alter their recollection of events. This practice harms not only our investigation, but also the independent investigation that you instructed the Inspector General to conduct.

In other words: the DOJ was either trying to make sure witness stories are consistent with DOJ talking points, or they were going through the back door to make sure everyone who was testifying was on the same page. Either would likely get the average citizen slapped with an obstruction or witness tampering charge in a state or federal court.

The hypocrisy here is egregious. According to the letter, on May 5 of this year an associate deputy attorney general expressed concern the committee “might allow witnesses exposure to documents they had not previously seen”:

To the extent that you nevertheless plan to interview our trial witnesses prior to trial, we would appreciate you taking the following steps to help reduce the risk of harm to the case that could arise from such interviews. First … we ask that you not show the witnesses new documents, as exposing the witnesses to facts that are not already within their personal knowledge may contaminate their recall of events. Second, for the same reasons, we ask that you not orally convey facts to the witness of which the witness was previously unaware.

DOJ did exactly what they asked Issa’s committee not to do.

Issa and Grassley demanded the following by July 18:

1. Identify which ATF and DOJ employees had access to this shared drive.

2. Provide a log of documents and the date each document was posted to the shared drive.

3. Provide a log of any other documents relating to this investigation, not on the shared drive, to which these employees had access.

4. Provide the dates for which these employees had access to the shared drive.

5. Identify those employees who still have access to this information.

The other letter sent to Holder names the people the committee says it knows for a fact had knowledge about Operation Fast and Furious. Of the 12 names on the list, there are a couple of particular interest. One is Lanny Breuer, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and current assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division. Another is Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco.

PJMedia has heard from sources that since DOJ’s attempt to make Acting ATF Director Ken Melson the fall guy failed when he turned King’s Evidence, DOJ is now planning to make Blanco the sacrificial lamb.

A third name of extreme interest: Gary Grindler, Eric Holder’s chief of staff.

It’s a bit difficult to believe that Holder’s chief of staff knew about this operation, but Holder didn’t.

Issa and Grassley are demanding all communications records between the 12 relating to Operation Fast and Furious.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Holder to claim — as he has all along – that he didn’t know about the operation until it blew up in his face. Issa and Grassley must keep pounding away until the guilty parties are hauled before a federal grand jury – the country owes Brian Terry and Jamie Zapata nothing less.

ALSO READ:Gunwalker: Smoking Gun Email?

Patrick Richardson has been a journalist for almost 15 years and an inveterate geek all his life. He blogs regularly at www.otherwheregazette.com, which aims to be like another SF magazine, just not so serious.
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