AG on the Firing Line for Gunrunning

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By Mark Anderson -

WASHINGTON, D.C.—If it hadn’t been for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Attorney General Eric Holder would have had an easy time testifying for the first time before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the deadly “Operation Fast and Furious” scheme to run guns to Mexican drug cartels.

On Nov. 8, AFP covered the three-hour hearing at the Dirksen Building, where Holder held firm to his fragile sounding explanation of his allegedly limited span of knowledge of a scheme in which straw buyers—under the auspices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE)—purchased firearms and transferred them to Mexico.

The conventional story: Several federal agents were ordered to let suspected “straw buyers” walk away from gun stores with AK-47s and other firearms thought to be headed to the cartels, rather than seize the weapons and make arrests on the spot. The stated official goal: Track the guns to trafficking ringleaders.

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However, agents lost track of some 1,400 weapons.

“One-hundred nineteen of these weapons have shown up at crime scenes in my state,” Cornyn told Holder. He added that some of the same weapons, acquired at U.S. gun stores near the border with Mexico, have turned up at 11 different crime scenes across America.

Cornyn recalled that he sent an Aug. 7, 2011 letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the Texas crime scenes—and a DOJ subordinate, not Holder, had just replied to Cornyn’s three-month-old inquiry right before the Nov. 8 hearing. The belated reply provided no constructive answers, Cornyn said. Cornyn then unveiled a chart, providing a partial time line.

According to the chart, Holder received a “significant recent events” memo “on F & F” [Fast and Furious] on Nov. 1, 2010, more than a month before the Dec. 14 shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near Rio Rico, Ariz. Two “F & F” weapons were found at the scene. Yet Holder claimed at the hearing he did not first learn about Fast and Furious, specifically, until late January of 2011. [A third suspected FBI weapon was found at the scene but destroyed.—Ed.]

Jan. 30 is shown on the chart as “Sen. Grassley hands F & F letter to AG Holder.” The chart also shows that Holder instructed the DOJ inspector general to internally probe this affair on Feb. 28, 2011, which is about the only concrete action he took.

On March 10, 2011 Holder did address Fast and Furious for the Senate Appropriations Committee, yet on May 3, the chart quotes Holder as saying he learned of the scheme “probably over the last few weeks.”

Yet there is ample evidence, as AFP already has reported, that as far back as the spring of 2009, Holder knew of major gunrunning at the border. On C-Span 2, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, in March 2009, announced that the BATFE was directed to carry out “Project Gunrunner” [what became known as Fast and Furious] on the Mexican border. Also, Holder, in April 2009, mentioned the project in a speech.

Holder fumbled a bit in his polished responses when Cornyn laid out a line of questioning—while noting that the chart shows Holder received two “F&F”memos, one back on July 5, 2010; the other, Nov. 1, 2010.

“There were [two] memos [citing F & F] with your name on it . . . are you saying you did not read them?” Cornyn asked.

“I didn’t receive them,” Holder claimed.

“You didn’t receive them?!” Cornyn exclaimed. Noticeably teary-eyed, Cornyn added, “Have you apologized to the family of Brian Terry?” The room seemed especially quiet.

Holder: “No.”

“Would you like to apologize to them [the Terry family] today?” Cornyn added, seemingly suggesting the Terry family might be in town, though AFP determined they were not.

“I have feelings of sympathy and regret,” Holder carefully replied, but he said in his view it’s tough to prove that Fast and Furious led “directly” to Terry’s death. There were audible scoffs in the audience.

By any reasonable analysis, finding two Fast and Furious weapons at the scene of Terry’s death is about as direct of a cause as one could expect, in explaining the events that led to his demise.

Addressing Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R. I.), Holder made the unsettling statement: “The chart [which] Sen. Cornyn [has] . . . those things were not brought to my attention, and I think my staff made the right decision in that regard.”

Sen.Mike Lee (R-Utah) noted, “You’ve acknowledged mistakes were made,” as part of Holder’s general explanation that bureaucratic foul-ups and miscommunication were largely to blame for the whole Fast and Furious fiasco. “What mistakes have you made?” Lee asked.

“I think I acted in a responsible way,” Holder replied.

Holder told Lee that “the people who made these mistakes will be held accountable.” However, Holder admitted that no one, at least in the DOJ, has been disciplined for Fast and Furious.

Notably, Grassley stressed that Fast and Furious (and a similar gun-transfer scheme called Wide Receiver under the Bush administration) should not be used to justify more domestic gun control.

“The straw buyers were already breaking the law,” Grassley observed. “It doesn’t matter how many laws we pass if those entrusted to enforce the law [the DOJ] refuse to do their duty.”

Even Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a known Second Amendment foe, did not invoke domestic disarmament. Rather, he referred to Wide Receiver, “gunwalking” in general and Fast and Furious to illustrate that this issue involves two presidents and should be broadly examined. Three U.S. attorneys general—Alberto Gonzalez, Michael Mukasey and now Eric Holder—all served when such transfers were taking place, in one form or another, Schumer observed, while not excusing the Obama administration.