Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley tells Newsmax.TV that “suspicion increases every day” that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder knew of the bungled Operation Fast and Furious gun-running scheme that led to the deaths of two federal agents and hundreds of Mexican nationals.
“Suspicion really went up the chain of command when the president declared executive privilege on the documents that we haven’t gotten yet that we’re entitled to, that we were promised,” Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
Grassley, who also serves on the Agriculture, Budget and Finance committees, is overseeing the congressional investigation into the debacle with California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
“I never connected the president directly to Fast and Furious, but you have that suspicion when the president invokes executive privilege so we can’t get to the bottom of it,” Grassely added, referring to President Barack Obama. “It also leads me to speculate when will we get all the answers and all the documents we’re entitled to. It might be the day after the election.”
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On Tuesday, Grassley and Issa released the first of three reports on Fast and Furious, naming five government officials they said were responsible for the stunt that saw hundreds of guns fall into the hands of violent Mexican drug cartels.
While the problems went all the way up to Kenneth Melson, the acting head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF), the report said that five subordinates bear the brunt of the responsibility for the scheme.
But the report, which resulted from an 18-month investigation, stopped short of blaming Fast and Furious for the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December – saying only that it “might have contributed” to his death. Earlier last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jamie Zapata was shot dead in Mexico.
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives found Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over more than 1,500 pages of Justice Department documents related to Fast and Furious. In congressional testimony in May 2011, the attorney general said that he had heard of Fast and Furious for the first time “over the last few weeks.”
The Grassley-Issa report released Tuesday examines the Justice Department’s dealings with its law-enforcement divisions, including ATF, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) throughout the scheme.
“It shows that the left hand of the Justice Department doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Grassley declared.
“There’s several bits of evidence that the FBI knew certain things about Fast and Furious, the gun-running and crimes connected with it, that it didn’t tell the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division of Justice,” he explained. “And the other division of justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration, it knew a lot of things that were very helpful to ATF, and kept it informed on a fairly regular basis, but ATF did not take that information to heart and use it in a useful way.”
Fast and Furious was a failure “from the very beginning” – even before Terry’s death, Grassley said.
“A long time before Brian Terry was dead and had really come to everybody’s attention, we had emails from gun dealers and from whistle-blowers in Arizona going to Justice saying that this isn’t going to work,” he said. “Their prophecy came true with the murder of Brian Terry, and probably two to three hundred murders with these guns on the other side of the border.”
As for bringing closure to Terry’s family, Grassley said, “I will fail in my investigations if I don’t get all the information that the Terry family is entitled to.”
One of the five men named in the report was William Newell, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Phoenix field office, who supervised Fast and Furious with David Voth, who was not named in the document.
Holder has reassigned both men, though Grassley prefers to see them fired. “But if that answer signals to you that I’m satisfied with that, no.”
“I go back to one of the main goals of this investigation: to make sure that whoever approved this in the first instance – and that’s got to be somebody within the Justice Department – gets fired. That person has to go.”
One such individual is Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who admitted last October that he had not done more to raise concerns about Fast and Furious. Grassley renewed his call for Breuer’s resignation.
“He knew about it a long time before he told us,” Grassley said. “He knew about it before the letters were written to me denying it – and the fact that he misled Congress. He should have been fired for misleading Congress, even though maybe he didn’t approve of this.
“We know that people that high up, the assistant attorney general for Justice, knew about this a long time before he admitted he knew it.”
The report also raised the legality of “straw purchases,” in which one party buys weapons and then transfers them to another. Many of the guns involved in Fast and Furious were obtained this way. Gun sales are illegal in Mexico.
“You ought to raise the question about the number of guns that were purchased,” Grassley said. “And the fact that the straw people were encouraged to buy the guns in the first place kind of obviates the whole issue of whether or not they were bought legally or not.”
In one of the states where straw purchases occurred, Arizona, prosecutors said they lacked enough evidence to charge those who bought guns this way in the scheme.
Grassley, however, does not think Congress should toughen laws on such buys. “All we have to do is expose this as a stupid mission and make sure it never happens again.”
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