As House Republicans request an investigation into whether Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself in Congress, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is turning up the heat, insisting that Holder "come forward and at least admit" he knew about "Fast and Furious" much earlier than he said.
Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said on Wednesday that Holder "failed" to properly answer questions during his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.
On May 3, the attorney general claimed in congressional testimony that he had only recently learned about the gun-walking program his U.S. Justice Department was running with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), while new documents directly contradict Holder's statement to Congress.
"He may or may not have perjured himself, but he certainly failed to answer my questions about [Rep.] Jason Chaffetz's questions about what did he know -- he implied he knew nothing when in fact he at least knew something," Issa told Fox News. "We certainly would like to believe that he was disingenuous, but not lying. The fact is the people who are making those statements on his behalf are lying on his behalf, period."
One document, dated July 2010, shows Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, told Holder that straw buyers in the Fast and Furious operation "are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels."
Memos Suggest Weekly Briefings
Other memos show that Holder started receiving weekly briefings on the Fast and Furious program from the National Drug Intelligence Center "beginning, at the latest, on July 5, 2010," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama, asking the president to instruct the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel.
"This is a man ... who, carefully, if he doesn't like the question, answers it the way he wants to," Issa said. "He had every obligation to say, 'I may not have known about all the details, but, of course, I knew about Fast and Furious because I was briefed somewhat on it weekly.' He needs to come forward and at least admit that because right now what he said is untrue and he needs to clarify before the committee."
Fast and Furious was designed to bring down Mexican cartels importing U.S.-bought weapons and shipping drugs to the United States. In the operation, ATF agents allegedly allowed thousands of weapons to cross the border and fall into Mexican drug cartel hands, CBS News reported.
It's called letting "guns" walk, and it remained unknown to the public until Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered last December; two Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene and ATF agent John Dodson blew the whistle. It was also learned that the ATF agents lost track of more than 1,000 firearms during the operation last year.
Throughout the interview, Issa repeatedly mentioned Terry, saying his family deserves closure.
"They need to know that the people responsible for Fast and Furious, all the way to the top, have to be held accountable. This was a phony, stupid operation that led to 2,000-plus weapons getting in the hands of the worst of the worst," he said.
U.S. Justice Department Statement
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice defended Holder in a statement, saying:
"The Attorney General's testimony to both the House and the Senate was consistent and truthful," it read. "He said in both March and May of this year that he became aware of the questionable tactics employed in the Fast and Furious Operation in early 2011 when ATF agents first raised them publicly, and at the time, he asked the Inspector General's office to investigate the matter."
The House Judiciary Committee's request for a special counsel is the third such request in the last two years. In October 2009, Smith asked for a special counsel to investigate ACORN, a community organizing group. In July 2010, Smith requested an investigation into the New Black Panther Party on charges of voter intimidation.
Following the release of the memos, a Justice Department official said that Holder "has consistently said he became aware of the questionable tactics in early 2011 when ATF agents first raised them publicly, and then promptly asked the (inspector general) to investigate the matter."
According to the official, Holder testified in March 2011, to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, of that development; the Justice Department official also said Holder regularly receives hundreds of pages, none of which contained information regarding the Fast and Furious operation or its potential problems.
"The weekly reports (100 + pages) are provided to the office of the AG and [deputy attorney general] each week from approximately 24 offices and components. These are routine reports that provide general overviews and status updates on issues, policies, cases and investigations from offices and components across the country. None of these reports referenced the controversial tactics of that allowed guns to cross the border," the official said.
"[House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell] Issa of all people, should be familiar with the difference between knowing about an investigation and being aware of questionable tactics employed in that investigation since documents provided to his committee show he was given a briefing that included the fast and furious operation in 2010 -- a year before the controversy emerged," the official continued.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told Fox News that months before Holder's Jan. 31 testimony, the attorney general came to Grassley's office, where the senator gave him a detailed letter on the Fast and Furious investigation.
"If he read my letter, he knew on Jan. 31," Grassley said. "He probably actually knew about it way back in the middle of last year or earlier."
Grassley would not say whether he thought Holder committed perjury.
"But I can tell you this. They're doing everything they can, in a fast and furious way, to cover up all the evidence or stonewalling us. But here's the issue, if he didn't perjure himself and didn't know about it, the best way that they can help us, Congressman [Darrell] Issa and me, is to just issue all the documents that we ask for and those documents will prove one way or the other right or wrong."