Issa Calls Holder to Account

On May 3, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) managed to haul Attorney General Eric Holder in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where he is the chairman, to discuss "Project Gunrunner."

Project Gunrunner was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) operation in which as many as 2,000 firearms were allegedly allowed to walk across the Mexican border in an attempt to track down the "big fish" in the gun trafficking rings -- and, presumably, the drug cartels. The attempt not only failed but, according to Issa, resulted in the deaths of two federal agents.

Issa had previously subpoenaed documents and personnel from the Department of Justice and from ATF -- and was flatly refused.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Holder claimed in his testimony Tuesday that it was not the policy of the DoJ to allow weapons across the border. Or, to be more specific, he attempted to claim this, in a sentence which was very carefully parsed:

Under no circumstances should guns be allowed to be distributed in an uncontrolled manner.

Of course, the goal of Project Gunrunner -- and Operation Fast and Furious -- was to allow those weapons across the border in a very carefully controlled manner and to track them.

The program began in 2009, but Holder said he'd only become aware of it in recent weeks and refused to say how far up the chain of command the decision to implement the program went.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Issa asked Mr. Holder whether he or his top lieutenants were aware of the tactics. Mr. Holder didn't say who signed off on the program, dubbed "Fast and Furious," or how high up the chain the approval went. He said he became aware of it only in recent weeks.

In a strongly worded letter sent earlier this week, Issa and Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, essentially accused Holder of lying to Congress:

In its latest denial, the Department seems to focus more on whether ATF knew guns were being trafficked to Mexico than whether the ATF knew they were being purchased by straw buyers. While it might be typical in Washington for lawyers to narrowly parse statements and argue over fine distinctions to confuse the issue, those are not the kind of answers that we believe the Justice Department should give to Congress when asked straightforward questions about such a serious matter as this one.

We are extremely dissapointed that you do not appear to be taking this issue seriously enough to ensure that the Department's representations are accurate, forthcoming and complete. We will continue to probe and gather the facts independently as it has become clear we cannot rely on the Department's self-serving statements to obtain any realistic picture of what happened.

Grassley went so far as to pen a hand-written postscript under his signature block:

PS: You should check to see if you are getting accurate information from your staff. You might be ill-served.

According to a story originally broken by CBS News earlier this year, the operation was designed to allow “straw buyers” (who purchase the weapons for someone else) to buy high quality weapons, including .50 caliber sniper rifles, from cooperating licensed dealers in the U.S. ATF would then track those weapons and hopefully take down the gun-running rings and perhaps the cartels as well.