Yesterday I reported that Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had issued a subpoena to force Patrick J. Cunningham, Chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, to testify in front of his committee.
Today we get another press release from Issa’s committee: it turns out that Cunningham, whom they’ve been trying to get to testify since August, will be pleading the Fifth. Issa is understandably unamused:
The assertion of the Fifth Amendment by a senior Justice official is a significant indictment of the Department’s integrity in Operation Fast and Furious. The former head of the ATF has previously told the committee that the Justice Department is managing its response to Operation Fast and Furious in a manner designed to protect its political appointees. This is the first time anyone has asserted their fifth amendment right in this investigation and heightens concerns that the Justice Department’s motivation for refusing to hand over subpoenaed materials is a desire to shield responsible officials from criminal charges and other embarrassment.
Coming a year after revelations about reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious were first brought to light, the assertion of the fifth amendment also raises questions about whether President Obama and Attorney General Holder have made a serious and adequate response to allegations raised by whistleblowers. Did Attorney General Holder really not know a senior Justice Department official fears criminal prosecution or is this just another example of him hiding important facts? The committee will continue to demand answers.
According to the release, this is an unusual step:
Cunningham’s response, made through his lawyer, to a subpoena issued by the committee is extremely rare. More alarming is how broad Cunningham intends to rely on the Fifth Amendment. His lawyer has informed the committee that the only information Cunningham would provide is his name and title at the Department of Justice.
Of course Cunningham says he wasn’t responsible for any of the tactics, which begs the question: why is he asserting the Fifth?
From the release:
The only legally valid reason for asserting the fifth amendment is fear that testimony could aid one’s own criminal prosecution. In his response to the Committee, Cunningham’s lawyer rejected assertions made by other senior Justice Department officials in Washington that his client held key responsibility for reckless tactics in Operation Fast and Furious and false information provided to Congress.
A friend mentioned to me yesterday he was afraid this scandal was fading into the woodwork before any answers could be found. I’d say it’s about to explode.