Fast and Furious was the Justice Department’s gun-running operation that allowed about 2,000 guns to flow into Mexico under federal supervision before authorities lost control of the guns. The operation began in the fall of 2009 and was halted in December 2010 after two of the guns from the operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona.
The Justice Department first told Congress that the department did not sanction “gunwalking,” but later admitted that was not accurate. After more than a year of failing to provide documents to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a bipartisan House vote that included 17 Democrats voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.
At one point during the oversight committee’s investigation, President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege to prevent Congress from receiving documents.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Mar. 6, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked if the White House was involved in Fast and Furious, to which Holder answered no.
Holder said the White House and Justice Department did not communicate on the matter until after it was under congressional investigation and no longer operating.
“You’re cutting too fine a line,” Holder told Cruz. “The president, the White House was not involved in the operational component of Fast and Furious. Certainly, interactions, conversations between the Justice Department and the White House about the operation after all of the operative facts had occurred, after all of the controversial actions had been taken. Then we got into the situation where we were talking about the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious. There were communications between the White House and the Justice Department.”
Cruz followed, “Is it your position that executive privilege only applies after the details of Fast and Furious became public and subsequent communications? But there is no executive privilege before it becoming public because as you said, just a minute ago, the White House was not involved in any way, shape or form with Fast and Furious.”
Holder concurred, “Executive privilege protects communications between the White House and the executive branch agency. To my knowledge, there are no communications that deal with operational components of Fast and Furious between the White House and the Justice Department.”
Holder told ABC News in February, when asked about last year’s contempt vote, “But I have to tell you that for me to really be affected by what happened, I’d have to have respect for the people who voted in that way. And I didn’t, so it didn’t have that huge an impact on me.”
Grassley said he was “extremely disappointed.”
“I voted for you based on the fact that giving you the benefit of the doubt and disregarding previous controversies,” Grassley said. “It seems to me your recent comments suggest a level of partisanship and disregard for whom you disagree that is quite shocking. I don’t think you should have said it and I think you owe the people an apology.”
Holder was defiant.
“Let me just say, what I don’t respect is the process,” Holder said. “It was an effort that had a predetermined result. Whatever we did in good faith was met by political determination. That is a process that I don’t respect to be honest with you. The people who pushed it, and I stand by that, I don’t respect, because I don’t think it was consistent with other cabinet members who had similar kinds of issues with Congress were treated. When the gun lobby decided to score that vote, then it was clear how the vote was going to turn out. And it became something other than what it was portrayed to be. That is a process I simply do not respect.”
Grassley, who was the first member of Congress to inquire about Fast and Furious, said if the Justice Department had answered his questions, the House vote would not have occurred.
Holder shot back that he was treated unfairly.
“Well, history has shown us that, in the past, there had been a much greater period of time for those kind of negotiations to occur,” Holder said. “Look at what happened with Harriett Miers, other people, Josh Bolton, as opposed to what happened to Eric Holder, you will see in the period in which we were given to try to respond and negotiate was much, much shorter. There was a desire to get to a certain point, and they got there.”
Grassley issued a statement after the hearing.
“I’m most disappointed in the Attorney General’s reaffirming the comments he made about lack of respect for members of Congress he disagreed with on Operation Fast and Furious,” Grassley said. “The Attorney General cited previous examples of contempt votes to make his point, but his facts are wrong. Actually, he had more time to comply with demands from Congress than Harriet Miers did. Miers was subpoenaed on June 13, 2007.”
“The House Judiciary Committee voted her in contempt just seven weeks later and the full House voted her in contempt about eight months after the subpoena,” Grassley continued. “By comparison, the Attorney General was subpoenaed on October 12, 2011, and was voted in contempt by the full House on June 28, 2012. That was 18 months after I first asked for information voluntarily. Is that not enough time to respond to congressional inquiries? How many more guns have to be found? How many more American and Mexican citizens have to be killed?”