The fight between House Republicans, the Department of Justice, and the White House over Operation Fast and Furious will escalate this morning, according to CBS News. The House Oversight Committee will take the first steps to charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress over continued stonewalling of demands for documentation and testimony on the disastrous ATF operation that led to the death of at least one Border Patrol agent and hundreds of people in Mexico:
Fox News reports that Oversight chair Darrell Issa has begun distributing a draft contempt citation:
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has circulated a lengthy pair of documents making the case for holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over his “refusal” to cooperate in an investigation of the ill-fated Fast and Furious operation.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Thursday sent to every member of his committee a 64-page draft contempt order against Holder as well as a 17-page memo outlining the history of the scandal.
“Operation Fast and Furious’ outrageous tactics, the Justice Department’s refusal to fully cooperate with the investigation and efforts to smear and retaliate against whistleblowers have tainted the institutional integrity of the Justice Department,” Issa wrote.
According to Fox, Issa won’t call for a vote on the charge — yet. The draft states that the committee has subpoenaed documents in 22 categories, and that Holder and the DoJ have yet to produce a single document in 12 of 22 categories. The question will be whether Issa can get the votes to take this next step, but it’s doubtful that Issa would have begun circulating a draft if he didn’t feel comfortable with his position.
A release from the Oversight Committee details the specifics:
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has distributed a staff briefing paper and draft of the contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder to Members of the Oversight Committee. The briefing paper explains what happened in Operation Fast and Furious, the hardships faced by the family of fallen Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in getting truthful answers about his death, how agents who blew the whistle on the reckless operation have faced retaliation, and the carnage in Mexico that Fast and Furious has helped fuel.
“This briefing paper and draft contempt report explains the case, to both Members of the Committee and the American people, for holding Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress,” said Issa. “In describing the results of the Justice Department’s refusal to cooperate – including the hardships the family of a fallen Border Patrol agent have faced in seeking the truth, and retaliation against agents who blew the whistle on gunwalking – this briefing paper provides the facts, on which decisions will be made.”
Highlights of the briefing paper include:
On information sharing failures (p.6):
“When [firearms trafficking syndicate ringleader] Celis-Acosta informed ATF of the names of the two cartel contacts for whom he had been working, agents quickly came to learn that these two U.S.-based cartel contacts were already known to the Department of Justice … In exchange for one associate’s guilty plea to a minor charge of “Alien in Possession of a Firearm,” both of these cartel associates became FBI informants and were considered essentially unindictable well before Operation Fast and Furious concluded. One ATF official would later say that the discovery that the primary targets of their investigation were not indictable was a “major disappointment.” Adding to the information-sharing failure, DEA had actually provided Celis-Acosta’s cartel connection to ATF in December 2009 in an effort to ensure that ATF’s efforts in Operation Fast and Furious were not duplicative.”
On the Justice Department’s Failure to Cooperate (p.9):
“When the Committee issued a subpoena to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on October 12, 2011, for Justice Department documents, the Committee specified 22 categories of documents it required the Department to produce. Department representatives specifically confirmed their understanding of each category. To date, the Department has not produced any responsive documents for 12 of the 22 categories. The Department has not completely fulfilled any of the 10 categories for which documents have been produced. For over a year, the Department has issued false denials, given answers intended to misdirect investigators, sought to intimidate witnesses, unlawfully withheld subpoenaed documents, and waited to be confronted with indisputable evidence before acknowledging uncomfortable facts.”
On the struggle of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s family to get the truth (p. 11):
“While the Justice Department’s admissions have largely come as a result of being confronted with indisputable facts, the painfully slow process of getting the truth has been a continuing frustration for the Terry family. They still do not have the all the facts about the circumstances surrounding Brian Terry’s murder …. As Brian’s sister said of his family’s desire to know the full truth, ‘Brian was about making a difference and justice. And I just feel that this country owes it to him, because he spent his whole life fighting for this country some way or another.’”
On Retaliation Faced by Agents who blew the whistle (p.13):
“Agent Alt notified his superiors about his impending testimony. The next day, ATF Internal Affairs notified Alt that they wanted to talk with him about another matter. On May 5, 2011, Agent Alt met with ATF internal affairs investigators about allegations that Alt downloaded two prohibited applications to his government-issued phone. The total cost of these applications was eight dollars …. Alt was prevented from transferring offices and his eligibility for promotions and pay raises barred during the pendency of the investigation – all supposedly over eight dollars in phone applications.”
On Fast and Furious fueling violence in Mexico (p. 15):
“In October 2010, cartel members kidnapped Mario Gonzalez Rodriguez, the brother of the Attorney General for the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where Juarez is located. The cartel posted a video of the kidnapped Rodriguez online, in which he alleged, under duress, that his sister had ordered killings at the behest of the Juarez cartel. The video went viral and became a major news story in Mexico. Two weeks later, Mexican authorities found Rodriguez’s body in a shallow grave. In a subsequent shootout with cartel members responsible for the murder, police arrested eight and recovered sixteen weapons. Two of these weapons traced back to Operation Fast and Furious. Although the Department of Justice learned that these weapons traced back to Fast and Furious almost immediately, no one informed the Mexican government. Not until congressional investigators were on the verge of learning the truth about the connection did an ATF agent in Mexico finally tell the Mexican Attorney General in June 2011 – seven months after Rodriguez’s murder.”
On allegations of intentional wrongdoing by Justice officials (p. 17):
“Perhaps the most damning assessments of the Department’s handling of the fallout from Operation Fast and Furious have come from two Justice Department officials. Kenneth Melson, the former Acting AFT Director during the pendency of Fast and Furious, told Congress that, “it appears thoroughly to us that the department is really trying to figure out a way to push the information away from their political appointees at the department.” Patrick Cunningham, who had been tasked by the Justice Department with investigating ATF whistleblower allegations of gunwalking, would later invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions about his work.”
Will the contempt citation push the DoJ into greater transparency? I wouldn’t bet that way, but the White House won’t want this in court, either, where a judge could order the release of a lot more than the administration would like. Brinksmanship just got a little more brink-ish.