Accusations and counter-accusations flew at Thursday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, as GOP lawmakers threatened Attorney General Eric Holder with everything from impeachment to contempt of Congress during testimony over Operation Fast and Furious. The operation allowed thousands of weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, resulting in the deaths of hundreds including U.S. federal agent Brian Terry.
Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa asked early in the hearing for Holder to testify under oath, and was told by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith he refused. He said Holder received a letter reminding him of his responsibility to be truthful and was therefore “deemed” to be under oath.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) took Holder to task over the lack of disclosure by the Justice Department and over what Oversight and Issa would later term “systematic lying” by DOJ officials:
Do you think the buck stops with you?
Lying to Congress is a federal felony. I don’t want to say you lied but what are you going to do to clean up the mess?
There is really no responsibility within the Justice Department. The thing is, if we don’t get to the bottom of this — and that requires your assistance on that — there is only one alternative that Congress has and it is called impeachment.
Holder used Clintonesque sentence parsing: he said the legal difference between lying and misleading was state of mind, and here there was no intent to lie. This comes on the heels of the DOJ’s unusual move just a few days ago of withdrawing a letter the DOJ earlier sent to Congress, claiming it was “misleading.” Weeks ago, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Special Agent William Newell also admitted his testimony on Operation Fast and Furious “lacked completeness.”
Democrats, and indeed Holder, spent most of the hearing calling for more gun control. There was advocation for a regulation blocked by Republicans which would have required multiple purchases of long-guns to be reported to ATF in the four southwest border states. Said Howard Berman (D-CA):
[I have] heard a lot today, some of it quite unbelievably overblown. … Every day thousands of guns are smuggled across the border.
Maxine Waters (D-CA) — in what appeared to this writer to be a rehearsed moment — looked surprised when Holder told her there was no requirement for a federal firearms dealer to report the sale of 100 AK-47s. However, Holder admitted the example was “dramatic.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) asked Holder:
How many firearms are sold to al-Qaeda terrorists, to other convicted felons, to domestic violence perpetrators … to white supremacists” at “unregulated” gun shows?
Holder said he didn’t have those numbers but would “get them … after the hearing.”