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DISCUSSION OF FAST & FURIOUS AND ITS AFTERMATH
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 20, 2012) — The House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform has reconvened after taking a break at approximately 1:22 p.m. At 3:14 p.m., Rep. Stephen Lynch read an amendment to the contempt motion which would require the committee to release the cost to the American people of its expenditures. Issa responded that he “could find no basis” under which the amendment could be attached to the contempt order. Lynch then said he was proposing amending the “report” rather than the motion.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz then asked Lynch to clarify his proposed amendment, to which Lynch said that “the costs are going to turn out to be staggering.” Lynch wishes to focus on other issues and said he wants a “balancing out” of the committee’s expenditures.
Rep. Lankford stated that the administration “dragging their feet” to produce documents causes the costs of the investigation to go up. He said he would like to know how much the Roger Clemens investigation had cost. Lynch said they “have that number” and wants the same for the Fast & Furious investigation. He said that the investigation has gone “far beyond” the death of Border Agent Brian Terry.
At 3:21 p.m., Issa said that his committee’s “records are public” and that he was seeking copies of documents already given to the Inspector General investigating Fast & Furious on its own. Issa drew a parallel that Watergate cost a lot, and that the costs increased as the Nixon administration stonewalled. Issa said that “The truth is that on February 4, this committee was given a false statement…As the months went on, there were discussions behind closed doors…I’m not a lawyer…Brian Terry’s family deserves every penny we have spent…In this Congress and in the next Congress…we will get to the bottom” of who killed agents like Brian Terry. Issa then yielded to Rep. Lynch again.
Lynch said that the ATF supervisor in Phoenix provided false information to the Justice Department and that he didn’t understand why those individuals had not been questioned. “This has become more about the next election…” Issa then interrupted Lynch and asked if he had read the wiretap applications, and Lynch said he had. Jason Chaffetz jumped in and contradicted Lynch and the two argued. “What we’re asking for in this committee is to see the documents,” Chaffetz said. “The problem that you have today is that they won’t provide the documents.”
Chaffetz said that the Phoenix ATF supervisors were questions in contradiction of what Lynch said. Lynch then said that in regard to the wiretaps, “there was nothing there to support the allegations made to support that senior officials at Justice knew what was going on.” Lynch said to Chaffetz that the information in the wiretaps “refutes everything you’re saying.”
At 3:29 p.m., Elijah Cummings said that Democrats were just as committed as Republicans to find out “who did this” (regarding Brian Terry’s murder). Cummings then mentioned that his nephew had died, but he didn’t say how. He stated that “It’s so easy for us to sit here and second-guess the attorney general, who is the #1 law enforcement officer trying to protect over 300,000,000 people…People talk about ‘he should know’ and sometimes you don’t even know what people are doing in your own office. This guy has people all over the country and Mexico. When we went down and talked to the Mexican people in a bipartisan trip, they said we need better gun laws. Do us that favor.”
Cummings said that he believes that Holder is “acting in good faith.”
Lynch began speaking again about his amendment; Issa took a vote, and then said that the amendment had been defeated by more “nos” than “ayes.”
Carolyn Maloney then took the floor and said that “the death of Border Patrol Agent was a terrible, terrible tragedy.” She introduced an amendment that “would add language to the report explaining that proceeding to contempt charges is unwarranted…because of serious and glaring flaws.” She said that the chairman has refused requests to hold a public hearing with Mr. Kenneth Melson, the former head of the ATF…” Maloney said that the committee members should “have a chance to question him.” She called him the “person responsible” and said that she believed that one reason he had not been called is that his “testimony would be contrary” to the contempt citation upon which they would be voting. She referenced an interview with Melson that was “closed to the public.”
Maloney claimed that Melson had “told committee staff that gunwalking violated agency doctrine, that they did not approve of it, and that they were not aware the ATF agents in Phoenix were using the technique of gunwalking…” and that they never alerted “senior justice officials” about it.
Maloney referenced former gunwalking programs as “deplorable” and said that the current investigation has “degenerated into a purely political exercise” to damage the reputations of Holder and “the president” in an election year.
Issa called upon Chaffetz to present an opposition view. Chaffetz said that Mr. Melson was “appointed by President Obama to the position” of Acting Director of the ATF. He referred to a transcription of the interview between Melson and members of the committee, quoting Melson on several statements. “These things have been available for 11 months,” Chaffetz said. Lynch then jumped in and asked if Chaffetz thought the director of the ATF in Phoenix should not be interviewed. Chaffetz referred to the letter sent to Congress on February 4, 2011, which had been proven to have made false statements. He said that “Lanny Breuer was in Mexico advocating for gunwalking the same day” the letter was received by Congress.” Chaffetz said that the matter of Fast & Furious should have been completed last year. “If you have questions about Mr. Melson’s point of view…it should not slow down our efforts here today,” Chaffetz said.
Eleanor Holmes Norton from Washington, DC then got the floor for five minutes. Norton said that “all the public understands” is about Brian Terry’s death. “Brian Terry is all that counts here,” she said. She cited it a “failure” to have not called Melson to testify in front of the committee. “We cannot start in the middle when there was a new justice department…this is not about ‘they did it, too’…there is no possibility of understanding why Brian Terry if we’re only looking at the back half…when this attorney general entered the picture…there was a beginning to this story, just not where we are now…we will never get to the bottom of it by pretending that this is about Fast & Furious and not about its former name, Wide Receiver, and how the decision was made in the first place.”
Rep. Chaffetz then rebutted, but Norton interrupted. She said that the matter at hand was about “Why was Officer Brian Terry killed?” “The fact is we have no information…none of us who were responsible for beginning this story…” Norton was asked to yield but did not. “The only way the public is going to take us seriously is if we look at the whole story…there is only one story or there is no story at all.” She then yielded to “the gentlelady from New York,” Carolyn Maloney.
Rep. Patrick Meehan then said that in September 2009, “Lanny Breuer sent a prosecutor to Arizona to prosecute ATF cases.” Meehan then said that the first case that Lanny Breuer chose to prosecute was from Wide Receiver. He stated that they have only partial access to email records and that they needed more. He cited emails between the Justice Department in Washington that “a lot of these guns walked.”
Issa then took a vote on the Maloney amendment, a vote was taken, and Issa declared the amendment defeated.
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina introduced an amendment which the clerk read in full with some changes. The clerk’s reading mentioned the claim of executive privilege made by Obama and reported this morning. The amendment claimed that Obama had not asserted himself that he was “asserting executive privilege.” The reading included eight points as to why additional information is needed and Holder should be held in contempt of Congress.
Gowdy then stated that Obama, when a U.S. Senator, had claimed that executive privilege was to be used rarely, but as president, Obama had done something different. Gowdy questioned whether or not Obama had exerted executive privilege properly, as it had been made “on the eve” of the contempt discussion. He referenced Holder’s meeting with Issa on Tuesday evening. “The president told Univision well over a year ago that he had nothing to do with Fast & Furious…” Gowdy said that there has “been no allegation” that Obama “was part of the decision to withdraw” the February 4 letter “ten months later.” “I’m not sure what he is asserting executive privilege over,” Gowdy said.
Rep. Kevin Connolly of Virginia then asked to speak and referred to the contempt of Congress motion against former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and whether or not executive privilege had been invoked then. Gowdy said that he was not in the Congress then, but he believed it had been. “What does that have to do with what we’re doing today?” Gowdy concluded.
Rep. John Tierney then spoke about Mukasey’s claim of executive privilege, stating that “the privilege recognizes the valid need for communications between high government officials…” Tierney said that “the claims are similar” between Mukasey and Holder. Tierney said that then-Chairman Henry Waxman had delayed the contempt vote at the time. Tierney said that Holder is willing to produce some documents and “will come in and explain them.” He recommended that Holder be given a chance to satisfy the committee.
Issa responded that Holder’s offer was not sufficient, and Tierney interrupted, stating that “others” had understood the meeting last night differently.
Rep. Buerkle stated that a statement from the Terry family had just been submitted which criticized Holder’s “refusal” to turn over documents. “It denies the American people the truth,” Buerkle read. “Our son lost his life protecting this nation,” the letter read. Issa then asked for a recorded vote be made on Maloney’s submitted amendment.
A vote was then taken on the Maloney amendment. A voice vote was taken by the clerk which appeared to go along party lines. The clerk announced 14 ayes and 23 nos, and Issa stated that the amendment was defeated.
A vote was then taken on the Lynch amendment. Several members, one of whom was Rep. Yarmuth of Kentucky, were not in their chairs during the vote. The clerk reported 15 ayes and 23 nos. “The amendment is not agreed to,” Issa said. A second voice vote resulted in more “nos” than “ayes.”
A voice vote was then taken on the Gowdy Amendment. Yarmuth had returned for that vote and voted “no.” All votes appeared to be on party lines. “The amendment is agreed to,” Issa said. The clerk was then asked to “call the roll” on the contempt motion. The clerk reported “23 ayes and 14 nos.” Issa then declared the contempt motion passed. “The committee stands adjourned,” Issa said at 4:22 p.m.