Issa Says He Doesn’t Believe Holder’s Testimony Was Accurate

July 7, 2011 - 4:24 PM

darrell issa

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

(CNSNews.com) - House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) says he does not believe Attorney General Eric Holder gave accurate testimony when Issa questioned him in the House Judiciary Committee on May 3.

In that testimony, Holder told the Judiciary Committee he had “probably” heard only in the “last few weeks” about the Justice Department’s “Operation Fast and Furious.” Issa told CNSNews.com he is convinced—“absolutely”—that Holder knew about the operation earlier than he claimed.

Operation Fast and Furious, begun in 2009, purposefully allowed known and suspected smugglers to purchase weapons at licensed gun dealers in the United States—sometimes while under active surveillance by U.S. law enforcement--and then allowed the smugglers to get away with the weapons, in some cases delivering them, as the government expected, to Mexican drug cartels. Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were specifically ordered not to stop the purchases, not to intercept the smugglers after they made the purchases, and not to retrieve the weapons.

The purpose of the operation was to let the Justice Department trace the movement of the guns and uncover the full structure of the gun-smuggling operations.

However, on Dec. 14, 2010, two rifles sold to one of the smugglers that the Justice Department had allowed to buy guns turned up at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Within 24 hours of Terry’s murder, according to an internal ATF email released by Issa, the FBI had definitively traced the rifles found at the murder scene back to Operation Fast and Furious and had so notified ATF.

Six weeks later, on Jan. 27, 2011, Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa) wrote a letter to ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson asking him to explain Operation Fast and Furious in light of the weapons found at the scene of Terry’s murder. Five days after that, on Feb. 1, 2011, the story of Operation Fast and Furious broke in the press—with multiple reports referencing Grassley’s letter to Melson. By Feb. 3, 2011, the operation, its link to the murder of Border Patrol Agent Terry, and Grassley’s inquiry to the ATF about it, had been reported in USA Today, The Arizona Republic, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press.

Yet, three full months after these public news reports, at a May 3 Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Holder, under questioning by Issa, testified that he had “probably” only learned about Operation Fast and Furious in “the last few weeks.”

“We believe that he was aware of it much earlier than he said in his testimony and questioning before the Judiciary Committee,” Issa told CNSNews.com in an interview.

“Are we confident that Eric Holder knew it much earlier? No,” said Issa. “Did he know it earlier than he testified? Absolutely.”

At the May 3 Judiciary Committee hearing, Issa asked Holder: “When did you first know about the program officially, I believe, called Fast and Furious? To the best of your knowledge, what date?”

Holder responded: “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.”

To watch Issa question Holder at the May 3 Judiciary Committee hearing click the video below:

The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines “few” as “a small number of units” and “week” as “any of a series of 7-day cycles used in various calendars.” By contrast, Merriam Webster defines a “month” as “approximately 4 weeks or 30 days.”

While Holder told the Judiciary Committee he had “probably” heard about Fast and Furious” a “few weeks” before May 3, readers of the Washington Post heard about it a few months before that, on  Feb. 2, when the Post ran a page-4 story that referred to “Fast and Furious” three times by name in describing how guns sold to a smuggler during the operation ended up at the scene of Border Agent Brian Terry’s murder.

“Two AK-47 assault rifles purchased by a man later arrested in a federal gunrunning investigation turned up at the scene of a fatal shooting of a Border Patrol agent in December, according to sources familiar with the investigation,” said the lead of the Feb. 2 Washington Post story.

“Whistleblowers who have contacted a U.S. senator allege that federal agents allowed guns, including the AK-47s, to be sold to suspected straw buyers who transported the weapons throughout the region and into Mexico,” reported the Post.

CNSNews.com asked Issa, “If DOJ officials have lied to Congress, would there be a possibility of perjury or contempt charges?”  Issa responded, “Certainly if you lie to Congress, that’s a possibility. One of the oddities, if you lie to Congress, we’d refer to Justice for prosecution.”

The Feb. 2 Washington Post story was hardly the only piece of evidence that would have alerted people in the Justice Department to Operation Fast and Furious more than “a few weeks” prior to Attorney General Holder’s May 3 Judiciary Committee testimony.

Melson met with staff investigators of the House oversight and Senate Judiciary committees with his personal attorney present instead of Justice Department attorneys present. According to a July 5 letter from Grassley and Issa to Holder, “Acting Director Melson's cooperation was extremely helpful to our investigation. He claimed that ATF's senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process. However, he said that Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress. The result is that Congress only got the parts of the story that the (Justice) Department wanted us to hear.”

Click here to see a timeline of events and documents related to Fast and Furious as it unfolded over a 17-month period prior to Holder’s testimony.