- (Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's congressional testimony on the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)'s failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation is being called into question by high-ranking Republicans.
Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) are asking for an investigation into whether Holder told the truth when he testified that he was unaware of the operation that oversaw the sale of some 2,000 of weapons, which ended up in the hands of the Mexican drug cartel. Recent published memos between senior Justice Department officials and Holder suggest otherwise.
A July 2010 memo from Michael Walther, the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), notified Holder that the NDIC and a Phoenix drug enforcement task force would assist the ATF with an investigation of a suspected gun trafficker, Manuel Celis-Acosta, being run under Operation Fast and Furious.
Walther's memo indicated the operation began in September 2009 and involved the NDIC, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Phoenix police department. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer also sent a memo to Holder in November 2010 indicating that a sealed indictment against alleged gun traffickers would remain until "Operation Fast and Furious" is "ready for takedown."
Holder testified in a May House Judiciary Committee hearing that he had only recently learned of Operation Fast and Furious."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," he said in the May 3 hearing.
When Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) pressed him for an explanation of why he was unaware of the project, Holder said, "You have to understand, something that is big ... in comparison to all the other things that are going on in the department at any one given time, might not seem quite as large... I have 114-115,000 employees. The FBI, the ATF, the DEA."
Operation Fast and Furious was a sting operation to bust weapons traffickers on the Southwest border. During the operation, federal agents were told to stand down from retrieving weapons purchased through straw buyers, and several weapons purchased in Arizona were allowed to cross the border into Mexico.
The program was shut down when U.S. Board Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in January. Two guns purchased in the ATF sting were found near his body. It is unknown if the guns were used in Terry's death.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) told the Daily Caller that, if Holder knew of Operation Fast and Furious, the Obama administration could be considered an accessory to murder.
"We're talking about consequences of criminal activity, where we actually allowed guns to walk into the hands of criminals, where our livelihoods are at risk," Gosar said. "When you facilitate that and a murder or a felony occurs, you're called an accessory. That means that there's criminal activity."
Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary committee, asked President Obama Tuesday to open an investigation into whether Holder gave truthful testimony.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is pushing for a second congressional hearing to investigate the issue.
There is some talk on Capiitol Hill of a Special Counsel being named, however some lawmakers are dubious.
"A Special Counsel may happen,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), “but it may also make the Justice Department circle the wagons more and make it even more difficult for Congress to get documents from them. But I have no intention of ending my investigation and I expect the Justice Department to cooperate with or without a special prosecutor."
After the memos were released, CBS News Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson said DOJ officials told her the question posed to Holder was "different" and implied that he likely misunderstood what was being asked. A DOJ spokesman released a statement to The Hill stating that Holder's statements in both his House and Senate testimony were "consistent and truthful."
"None of the handful of entries in 2010 regarding Fast and Furious suggested there was anything amiss with that investigation requiring leadership to take corrective action or commit to memory this particular operation prior to the disturbing claims raised by ATF agents in the early part of 2011," the statement said.