Skip to comments.Darrell Issa, Department of Justice feud heats up
Posted on 06/14/2011 8:07:41 PM PDT by delacoert
The Obama administration and Rep. Darrell Issa seem to be headed for their biggest showdown yet as the House oversight committee chief prepares for a Wednesday hearing into an undercover, federal gunrunning investigation that lost track of weapons later found at the scene of a Border Patrol agents murder in Arizona.
Issa, a California Republican, contends the administration has stonewalled his requests for records about a deeply flawed investigation, known as Operation Fast and Furious, that may have allowed hundreds of weapons from U.S. gun dealers to flow across the border to Mexican drug gangs. Issa also says congressional Democrats are obstructing his inquiry into what he calls reckless and inappropriate decisions by top Justice Department officials.
Justice Department officials say handing over sensitive documents to Congress could imperil pending prosecutions, including the case involving the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the prosecution of 20 people as a result of the gunrunning probe.
Administration aides fear the dispute could escalate to produce a rare House vote to cite Justice officials for contempt. That, in turn, would likely trigger a court battle testing Congresss rights to delve into ongoing criminal investigations.
Administration officials also charge that Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) released highly confidential information about the identity of a former target of the probe and his dealings with an informant working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Issa insisted that the fault for any mistakes lies with the Justice Department because it has moved slowly and handed over few records since he served the agency with a subpoena on March 31.
If the administration started cooperating then, the errors that may occur would not occur, Issa told POLITICO in an interview Monday. As long as they dont cooperate, any errors we make are on them, not on us.
We do not have a dialogue theyve asked for permission to redact what we have, but in fact they wont give us that same information. If they would deliver all the information full and complete with the suggested redactions, we could probably agree to virtually all or all of the redactions, Issa said. The Justice Department handed over hundreds of documents Monday evening, but a Republican committee aide said the panel wants more.
Democrats, led by Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, dont object to investigating the controversial ATF operation in fact, many say they support the congressional probe. But Cummings, a lawyer from Baltimore, says he wants to proceed with hearings after the federal government completes its prosecutions.
It is extremely important to me that we maintain the integrity of this committee, Cummings said in an interview. And part of that is trying to consistently do everything in our power to avoid doing anything prejudicial to particularly a criminal trial. We can have the committee achieve what it needs to achieve, but at the same time, not prejudice these cases.
Issa insisted his investigation has no overlap with the crimes the federal government is investigating and prosecuting. He called Cummings issues without any foundation or basis, adding that Cummings has been part of the deliberative obstruction by the administration.
Is it timely? Yes. Issa said of the hearing and investigation. Americans are at the risk of dying from those weapons today. And the prosecution of 20 people who bought these has nothing to do with this investigation.
When asked if the timing could be altered, Issa deadpanned, Iran-Contra couldve been done at a later date. Watergate couldve been done at a later date.
The dispute is expected to heat up Wednesday as the Justice Departments top liaison to Congress, Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich, testifies to the oversight panel.
According to sources familiar with his testimony, Weich a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to claim that Issas subpoena of a witness expected to testify at the trial prompted a defendant in the case to back out of a meeting to discuss a potential plea bargain. The defendants lawyer cited fears that any disclosures at the meeting with prosecutors might become public as a result of the congressional probe, the sources said.
Administration officials say theyve given Issa hundreds of pages of documents, are allowing staff to look at more sensitive records at the Justice Department, and are searching through what may be a million pages of documents responsive to the Houses requests. However, Justice Department officials also say theyre withholding some sensitive details about the investigation.
Issa also subpoenaed documents from the administration that the committee already has received from whistleblowers an attempt to test the cooperation of the administration and integrity of what the committee has obtained, committee insiders say.
Democrats are furious about how Issa has handled the investigation.
I have very serious concerns about the manner in which the committee is proceeding, Cummings wrote in a letter Monday. No Member of this Committee wants to risk compromising criminal prosecutions involving alleged murderers and gun traffickers for international drug cartels.
Justice Department officials have conceded privately that something went wrong with the gun tracking in Operation Fast and Furious. The agencys inspector general is examining the episode at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder.
The probe will look at the guidelines, internal controls and investigative outcomes in gun trafficking cases, said Jay Lerner, a spokesman for the internal watchdog.
The Justice Department says that for several decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations, it has argued that Congress should take a back seat when a criminal probe is underway.
Exercises of that oversight authority must also account for and in some cases yield to the legitimate confidentiality interests of the Department and the criminal justice system, the department said in a statement Monday.
Ben Campbell, a former federal prosecutor on the Enron Task Force, agreed that the governments concern reflects longstanding policy. Particularly when people are trafficking in firearms they can be very sophisticated and it can lead to very violent repercussions for people they perceive to be cooperating with prosecutors, he said.
At the moment, the administrations ire is directed at Issa, who holds subpoena power. However, at least two of the disclosures Justice Department officials have complained about came weeks earlier from Grassley.
The Justice Department has been clear in its limited dealings with Senator Grassleys staff that no actual harm was done by any released documents, Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said in a statement. The truth of the matter is that in some cases Senator Grassley and his staff know more about the facts than the Justice Department seems to know.
In an interview last week with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Issa said hed be willing to risk some impact on prosecutions in order to expose reckless investigative tactics by the ATF.
I dont want anyone to walk because of our investigation, but if some meth addict doesnt get a strong sentence for buying guys, thats probably not the worst damage if this kind of program continues and we believe it continues today, Issa said.
Legal experts called before the committee on Monday said there was no legal basis for the Justice Department not to comply with a subpoena, though some said the committee should try to address prosecutors concerns.
As it stands now, they owe you the documents, said Charles Tiefer, who served as legal counsel to the House for more than a decade. Its their job to make a record that would justify keeping anything back. So far, they havent. The Department should just try harder to earn the committees trust.
Tiefer noted that prosecutors havent been deferential when seizing materials from Congress. He said Congress shouldnt shy away from asserting its prerogatives. There has to be a fight, he said. This is not a lovemaking process.
I take issue with the use of the term "lost track of." There never was any intent to track those weapons. The only intent was to recover them at crime scenes for the PR effect in support the administration's agenda for greater gun control.
Stick to your guns, Issa, stick to your guns.
Congressman Issa is exactly right and he used much too kind words expressing that regarding Cummings.
I hope DOJ keeps stalling. The media’s like sharks, they can’t help it when blood is in the water. Issa needs to push this into a full scale internecine war and let the media splash it everywhere.
That Congress does not have enforcement power severely limits their options.
Now, if they could get more whistle blowers to come forward and publicly testify along with testimony and documents they already have...they may be able to generate enough political momentum for impeachment...provided the crimes are there.
And, it APPEARS the crimes are there.
“Darrell Issa, Department of Justice feud heats up.”
Note Politico’s headline composition and story thrust.
The picture painted:nutty Republican feuding with noble government entity,The Justice Department.
If this were during the Bush administration it would read:
“Lawmakers demand records from stonewalling Bush Administration”.
GO ISSA GO!!!! WE ARE SOOO BEHIND YOU!!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
Another issue..of many..that leads to questions concerning the ongoing utility of the Feds to the States they purportedly serve.
I sure hope he sticks with it.
I have this feeling that this case is going to become a very beautiful thing.
Go Issa Go....go all the way!
Well said sir!!
Incredibly, the (BATFE) are STILL engaging in this conspiracy against the second amendment freedoms of the American people.
It's WAY past time to put an end to the “F” in the BATFE.
Issa needs to unleash Hell on the DOJ. Its time for hardball. Holder needs to go down and go to jail.
This will be on cspan-3 from 10-12 EST. If you can’t watch and have an iPhone cspan has a free app so you can listen. I’ll definitely be listening!
Cummings is covering up murders. Typical of the sort of creep voters in Baltimore send to Congress.
Yup. That's a hit in the 10 ring.
Scouts Out! Cavalry Ho!