(CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in the House Foreign Relations Committee Thursday that there was "no record" that the Justice Department had given the State Department a "head up" about Operation Fast and Furious, in which guns were allowed to flow from the United States to drug traffickers in Mexico, and that the State Department had found "no evidence" that DOJ had applied for a license or waiver to send guns to a foreign country, which a member of the committee told her would have been required under U.S. law.
Clinton was responding to questions from Rep. Connie Mack (R.-Fla.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The federal Arms Export Control Act requires State Department involvement in any decision to send weapons across an international border. Under the act, it is illegal to "conspire to export, import, re-export or cause to be exported ... any defense article ... for which a license or written approval is required ... without first obtaining the required license or written approval from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls."
Rep. Mack quoted this portion of the law in a letter he sent to Clinton on Wednesday, the day before she testified before the committee.
"I wanted to talk a little bit about Fast and Furious, and specifically at what point did the State Department learn of Operation Fast And Furious?" Mack asked Clinton on Thursday.
"Congressman, I don't know the exact time," Clinton responded. "I can tell you that based on our information from the part of the State Department that would deal with this kind of issue, we have no record of any requests for coordination. We have no record of any kind of notice or heads up. And, you know, I--my recollection is that I learned about it from the press. That's my recollection."
Mack then asked Clinton about whether DOJ had sought a license from the State Department to allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.
"Did the State Department issue the Justice Department a license or a written waiver in order to allow for the transfer of thousands of weapons across the U.S.-Mexico border?" Mack said.
"Well, Congressman, you know, this is the first time I've been asked this, and I can tell you that based on the record of any activity by the bureau that would have been responsible, we see no evidence," Clinton said. "But let me do a thorough request to make sure that what I'm telling you reflects everything we know."
Mack then told Clinton that he had sent her a letter on Wednesday pointing out that he believes federal law required the Justice Department to get a written waiver from the Stat Deparment to allow arms to be exported to drug traffickers in Mexico.
"Under he Arms Export Control Act, the Justice Department was required to receive a written waiver from the State Department to account for their intent to cause arms to be exported to drug cartels in Mexico," said Mack. "If no such waiver was received, Justice Department officials have violated the law. And you would agree with that, correct?"
"I cannot offer an opinion," said Clinton.
"I don't know," she continued. "I mean, this is the first time I'm being asked."
Mack pressed her on the question of whether DOJ would indeed have violated the law if it had not gotten a written waiver.
"I'm not asking you if you--if there was such a written [waiver]," Mack said, "but if they hadn't asked and received by law the Justice Department would be violating U.S. law?"
"I cannot offer you any opinion on that," said Clinton. "I don't have the information or any analysis. I can only tell you the facts as we know them in the State Department."
Mack then stated his view that DOJ violated the law if it did not get the written waiver from Clinton's State Department.
"The State Department is required to give a written waiver for the cause of arms to be exported to drug cartels in Mexico and they didn't do that and that didn't happen, then they are in violation of the law," said Mack.
"And so the question here is: Who do we hold responsible?" said Mack.
"So I look forward to if you would get back to me and the committee ... about the waiver and whether or not the State Department issued that waiver," the congressman told Clinton.
As part of Fast and Furious, the ATF's Phoenix division knowingly allowed about 2,000 guns to "walk" to Mexican drug cartels. The guns were supposed to be tracked to cartel leaders, but federal law enforcement officials lost track of most of the weapons.
The program began in September 2009 but was halted in December 2010 after guns involved in the operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, President Barack Obama has expressed “complete confidence” in his attorney general, Eric Holder, who has come under fire for his congressional testimony concerning Operation Fast and Furious.
Testifying in the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2011, Holder was asked by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) when he first learned about Operation Fast and Furious. Holder said: “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”
DOJ documents that were released later show that memos sent to Holder in July 2010 discussed Operation Fast and Furious.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has called for a special counsel to probe whether Holder’s testimony was truthful.