Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley
Justice Department Accountability Matters
More Fast and Furious Stonewalling
Thursday, February 9, 2012
For over a year now I have been investigating Fast and Furious, an operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
This has been a complicated investigation. It’s been made even more difficult because of the Justice Department’s lack of candor and transparency. The Justice Department is stonewalling, interfering with Congress' constitutional responsibility of oversight.
For example, the Justice Department Office of Inspector General recently disclosed that it has received 80,000 pages of documents from the Department and over 100,000 emails. That stands in stark contrast to the 6,000 pages of documents we’ve received from them.
Similarly, the Inspector General has been allowed to conduct 70 witness interviews. By contrast, the Justice Department has only provided 9 witnesses to us.
Last week Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Justice Department did a document dump to Congress the Friday night before the hearing.
That has become a bad habit for the Department.
In fact, without giving us any advance notice that it was coming, they slid a CD of documents under our door after business hours when my office was already closed. They managed to find time to leak the documents to the press during regular business hours.
Why would they be so mysterious, wanting to put a disk under our door on a Friday night, giving it to the press hours before? What sort of attitude is that of the Justice Department towards the cooperation that you ought to have with our filling our constitutional role of oversight?
I'd say it’s hardly any cooperation whatsoever.
Now, even though we get a dribble here and a dribble there, even though we get a c.d. under the door instead of very open face-to-face receiving documents, what we got last Friday did reveal further facts about a previously unknown proposal to allow these guns to cross the border.
We have long known that in March 2011, Deputy Attorney General James Cole had a conference call with all Southwest Border U.S. Attorneys.
In a follow-up email after the call, Mr. Cole wrote:
“As I said on the call, to avoid any potential confusion, I want to reiterate the Department’s policy: We should not design or conduct undercover operations which include guns crossing the border. If we have knowledge that guns are about to cross the border, we must take immediate action to stop the firearms from crossing the border, even if that prematurely terminates or otherwise jeopardizes an investigation.”
Attorney General Holder himself told us at a hearing in May that Mr. Cole was simply reiterating an existing Justice Department policy in his email, not communicating a new policy.
So imagine my surprise when I discover in the documents slid under my door late that Friday night that while in Mexico, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer proposed letting guns cross the border.
His proposal came at the same time the Department was preparing to send its letter to me denying that ATF ever does the very thing he was proposing.
In a February 4, 2011 email, the Justice Department attaché in Mexico City wrote to a number of officials at the Justice Department:
“AAG Breuer proposed allowing straw purchasers to cross into Mexico so [the Secretariat of Public Security] can arrest and [the Attorney General of Mexico] can prosecute and convict. Such coordinated operations between the US and Mexico may send a strong message to arms traffickers.”
So, we've got people here in Washington who say the program doesn't exist. At the same time we've got people talking down in Mexico City of what we're trying to accomplish by the illegal sale of guns.
The recipients of this email included Mr. Breuer’s deputy, Jason Weinstein, who was helping to write the Justice Department’s letter to me that they would later withdraw for its inaccuracies.
Mr. Weinstein was sending updates about the draft letter to Mr. Breuer in Mexico. Yet, during his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Breuer downplayed his involvement in reviewing the draft letter.
It is outrageous to me that the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division proposed exactly what his Department was denying to me was happening.
The Justice Department’s letter to me clearly said:
“ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”
Yet as those words were being sent to Congress Mr. Breuer was advocating that a Justice Department operation allow weapons to be transported into Mexico. Further, it directly contradicted what the Justice Department has said its policy was.
They can’t have it both ways.
If they didn’t have a policy against such operations, perhaps it is not a surprise that an operation like Fast and Furious sprang up.
After all, as that same Justice Department attaché wrote of a meeting a few days after his first email:
“I raised the issue that there is an inherent risk in allowing weapons to pass from the US to Mexico; the possibility of the [Government of Mexico] not seizing the weapons; and the weapons being used to commit a crime in Mexico.”
The light bulb went on. Of course, if you're selling guns illegally, 2,000 of them, then don't interdict them, they end up murdering people in Mexico and one person in the United States at least.
If the Justice Department did have a policy against such operations, this is a record of Mr. Breuer proposing to violate it.
That’s not just my conclusion. That’s the Attorney General’s conclusion as well.
At last week’s hearing, the Attorney General was asked to explain the contradiction between his deputy’s anti-gunwalking policy and the evidence of Mr. Breuer’s proposed operation to let guns cross the border.
The Attorney General answered: “Well, clearly what was proposed in, I guess, February by Lanny Breuer was in contravention of the policy that I had the Deputy Attorney General make clear to everybody at Main Justice and to the field…”
Perhaps this disconnect between Justice Department policy and Lanny Breuer’s proposal explains Mr. Breuer’s previous inaction to stop gunwalking.
When he found out about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver in April 2010, he failed to do anything to stop it or hold anyone accountable. He simply had his deputy inform ATF leadership.
Regardless, Mr. Breuer’s contravention of Justice Department policy is yet another reason why it is long past time for him to go. Mr. Breuer has misled Congress about whether he was aware of the Department’s false letter to me.
To this day, he is still the highest-ranking official in ANY administration that we know was aware of gunwalking in any federal program.
Yet he took no actions to stop gunwalking. He failed to alert the Attorney General or the Inspector General. Mr. Breuer has failed the Justice Department, and he has failed the American people. This failure raises some important questions.
When did Attorney General Holder determine that Mr. Breuer was proposing allowing straw purchasers to reach Mexico with trafficked weapons?
What has he done about it?
Will Mr. Breuer be held accountable for hatching a plan to directly violate the Attorney General’s anti-gunwalking policy?
The Attorney General clearly testified that the proposal was in “contravention” of the policy.
How does the Justice Department know other senior Criminal Division officials weren’t proposing operations similar to Fast and Furious?
These are just a subset of some of the major questions remaining in our investigation of Operation Fast and Furious.
It has now been one year since the Justice Department sent its false letter to me.
How did the Justice Department move from its position of dismissing the complaints of whistleblowers to acknowledging that they were true?
What officials were internally dismissive of the whistleblowers’ complaints, and who believed they could have merit and should be taken seriously?
To what extent did Justice Department officials seek to retaliate against whistleblowers?
Exactly how and when did Justice Department officials begin to learn the truth of what happened?
Former ATF Director Ken Melson has testified how and when he learned that guns had walked.
What about Attorney General Holder?
What about Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer?
A year after Operation Fast and Furious concluded, who will be held accountable?
Why didn’t top Justice Department officials see the clear connections between Fast and Furious and previous flawed operations that they have admitted they knew about?
How has the Justice Department assessed the mistakes and culpability of these top officials?
It’s time for the Justice Department to stop stonewalling and start providing answers.
It’s time for them to share with Congress the other 74,000 pages of documents they’ve turned over to the Inspector General. It’s time for them to give us access to the dozens of other people the Inspector General has been allowed to interview.
In short, it’s time for them to come clean with the American people.