Undaunted — and perhaps even spurred on — by recent charged developments, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, today demanded that the Department of Justice make a key federal prosecutor available to testify before his Committee as a part of its investigation into the lethal gun-running program Operation Fast and Furious.
Last week, the chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona, J. Patrick Cunningham, pled his fifth amendment right to not testify against himself and refused to offer any information other than his name and title to Issa’s Committee. Cunningham’s decision to cast himself on the Constitution for help stunned congressional investigators and was itself an indictment on the integrity of the Department of Justice. As Ed wrote at the time, “One point is pretty clear, though. Officials at the DoJ involved in this operation are fearing criminal prosecution, which means that this scandal just went prime time.”
Since then, we’ve learned that Cunningham will leave his post at the Department of Justice this Friday for a private-sector job. That’s as it should be. Cunningham’s decision — while perfectly “correct” in a constitutional sense — nevertheless limited Congress’ ability to arrive at answers to questions about Fast and Furious. Given Congress’ responsibility to oversee DOJ operations and the DOJ’s responsibility to cooperate with Congress, a DOJ official who cannot cooperate for fear of self-incrimination should no longer be a part of the DOJ.
Meantime, Issa and his investigators apparently think they can acquire at least some of the information Cunningham could have provided from one of the U.S. attorneys under his supervision. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Michael Morrissey played an “integral part” in Fast and Furious and has information not available from other sources, Issa says. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Chairman Issa demanded the DOJ release Morrissey to testify. The Washington Times reports:
“Since August, the department has identified Patrick Cunningham as the best person in the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide information about Fast and Furious to the committee,” Mr. Issa wrote. “The departmenthas refused to make Michael Morrissey and Emory Hurley, both Assistant United States Attorneys supervised by Mr. Cunningham, available to speak with the committee, citing a policy of not making ‘line attorneys’ available for congressional scrutiny.
“Mr. Morrissey, however, was Mr. Hurley’s direct supervisor, and an integral part of Fast and Furious,” Mr. Issa wrote. “Importantly, bothMorrissey and Hurley are unique in their possession of key factual knowledge about Fast and Furious not readily available from any other source.”
Mr. Hurley was the lead prosecutor in the Fast and Furious operation. In August, he was reassigned from the criminal division to a civil division post.
Whether Morrissey will, in fact, testify — and whether he can fill the gaps left by Cunningham’s decision to plead the Fifth — remains to be seen. Next Tuesday, though, Holder himself will again testify before the House Committee. He hasn’t taken responsibility for the scandal up to this point — and there’s no reason to think he’ll do so now, but the House Committee can at least again seek answers from the clearly either corrupt or incompetent head of the DOJ.