The White House reacted sharply to the committee action.
“Instead of creating jobs or strengthening the middle-class, congressional Republicans are spending their time on a politically motivated, taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition,” Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said.
During the committee’s year-and-a-half-long investigation, the department has turned over 7,600 documents about the conduct of Operation Fast and Furious. However, because the Justice Department initially told the committee falsely the operation did not use a risky investigative technique known as gun-walking, the panel has turned its attention from the details of the operation and is now seeking documents that would show how the department headquarters responded to the committee’s investigation.
In the operation, agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona abandoned the agency’s usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. Instead, the goal of gun-walking was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers, who had long eluded prosecution, and to dismantle their networks.
Gun-walking has long been barred by Justice Department policy, but federal agents in Arizona experimented with it in at least two investigations during the George W. Bush administration before Fast and Furious.
The agents in Arizona lost track of several hundred weapons in the operation.
Ordinarily, documents like those Issa is seeking are off-limits to Congress. In Operation Fast and Furious, the Justice Department’s initial incorrect denials are seen as providing justification for the additional demands.
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Members of delegation respond
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City
Lankford is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
“Refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena comes with consequences including the loss of public trust and being held in contempt,” Lankford said
“My goal is to answer the following questions: who authorized the Fast and Furious actions; why were the actions authorized; who was in charge of operational oversight; and why were the actions allowed to continue? Now, we must also add the question, what is the administration trying to hide with such extraordinary methods?
“The administration has previously denied involvement in the Fast and Furious operation, but now they have invoked executive privilege. If no wrongdoing occurred, why would the administration ardently fight investigation? Executive privilege only increases the speculation that facts are being withheld to protect people rather than resolve the issue.
“We must make sure this type of operation and loose oversight never occurs again. We will hold this administration accountable for its misconduct.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore
“President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege can only be interpreted as a desperate attempt to hide the truth about Fast and Furious. This investigation could have been completed months ago, but the repeated refusal of Eric Holder’s Justice Department to cooperate has left the Oversight Committee with no choice but to pursue contempt charges.
“Congress and the Justice Department should be working together toward the common goal of providing answers to the American people and ensuring that a debacle like Fast and Furious never happens again. Today’s developments confirm that while the House Oversight Committee is seeking the truth, the White House is actively working to conceal it.”
Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau