Attorney General Eric Holder sparred Thursday with Republican lawmakers who demanded to know why Justice Department officials haven’t been fired over the Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal and the botched prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens.
During a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, members of Congress complained that the Justice Department’s response to both episodes has been too timid, and officials who engaged in misconduct have gotten away with a slap on the wrist or even less.
The congressional hearing, like several involving Holder over the past year, was dominated by discussion of the Fast and Furious episode. While much of Congress has been in a frenzy over leaks of classified national security secrets, that subject was barely broached at the Judiciary Committee session.The hearing’s most fiery exchange came when House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California asked if the Justice Department had gathered information responsive to Fast and Furious-related subpoenas that officials have decided not to turn over to Congress.
As Holder began to describe what DOJ had provided, Issa cut him off.
“Mr. Attorney General, you’re not a good witness. A good witness answers the question asked,” Issa thundered.
“We’ve looked at 240 custodians. We have processed millions of electronic records. We’ve reviewed 140,000 documents,” Holder said. He also said the department has turned over 7,600 pages of records to Congress in the Fast and Furious probe.
“Look, I don’t want to hear about the 7,600 pages,” Issa interjected.
Issa stacked up on the dais six wiretap applications filed in connection with Fast and Furious. He asked why senior Justice Department officials never reviewed them closely enough to see what Issa said were tactics that allowed guns to reach drug cartels.
“These wiretap applications we did not subpoena but …. were given to us by a furious group of whistleblowers tired of your stonewalling,” Issa said.
Holder disputed Issa’s contention that the records contained clear indications of gunwalking, or deliberately allowing guns to fall into criminal hands.
“I have read them, and I disagree with the conclusion you’ve just reached,” said Holder, who in previous hearings said he was not familiar with the applications. The attorney general also said the applications were handled the same way as those in a previous case that involved gunwalking during the Bush administration.
“That is a process that has been used by this administration and by all previous administrations,” Holder said.
“There nothing in those affidavits as I’ve reviewed them that indicates that gunwalking was allowed,” the attorney general added later.
At one point when Issa cut him off, Holder complained. “Can I answer my question, the question that was asked?’”
Several Democrats stepped in to defend Holder and insist that he be allowed to respond.
The panel’s ranking member, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, complained about the “hostility and interruption of the witness.”
“I appreciate there was hostility between the attorney general and myself,” Issa said, but he asserted that the tension stemmed from the Justice Department’s stonewalling. “I have a great many questions and relatively little time in which [to get answers], for a year-and-a-half my committee has been trying to get answers.”
Holder said he didn’t detect hostility, despite Issa’s sharp tone and high volume level.
“With all due respect to Chairman Issa, he says there’s hostility between us. I don’t feel that. I’m trying to answer the questions,” Holder said. “I’m pretty calm. I’m OK.”