By Mark Wachtler
December 5, 2011. Washington. Ever since the notorious and secret BATF operation titled Fast and Furious was uncovered in August, Justice Department officials have found themselves in one scandal after another. The BATF isn’t even part of the Justice Dept, but that didn’t stop DOJ authorities from lieing to Congress in an attempt to cover-up for criminal acts within the BATF. But the DOJ has a different take on it. They didn’t ‘lie’, they merely supplied Congress with false information. Just like, the BATF didn’t sell 2,500 high-powered military assault weapons to a Mexican drug cartel last year. They simply ‘lost’ them.
AG Eric Holder under fire again for illegal activities within his agency.
The latest admission of wrongdoing is from Attorney General Eric Holder. He assured Congress last week that he has no evidence that anyone in his agency purposely lied to Congress. Contempt of Congress, or providing false testimony to Congress, is a Federal offense and a serious charge. Holder's claim is falling on deaf ears however, as Congressional Republicans and even the DOJ’s own Inspector General, continue to investigate the Department over its involvement in the BATF Fast and Furious operation.
During Fast and Furious, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms supplied a Mexican drug cartel with 2,500 firearms, most of which were high-powered, military assault rifles. BATF agents involved have testified that they intended to keep the weapons under surveillance, but lost track of them. The weapons have since begun appearing on the scenes of dozens of gruesome mass murders and other violent and deadly acts related to the Mexican drug war. They’ve also turned up at crime scenes on the US side of the border.
The final straw for Congress came when US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010 and one of the BATF’s weapons was found at the scene. Since then, the BATF’s acting director Kenneth Melson was transferred to a senior position at the Justice Dept. Also, US Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, resigned. Both figures were at the center of the Fast and Furious operation. Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘DOJ and Treasury Covering for Someone Big’ for more details about Fast and Furious.
At issue is a letter from February of this year from the Dept of Justice to Congressional investigators trying to get to the bottom of the Fast and Furious gun-running operation. The letter was the Justice Department’s official response about the events that surrounded the disastrous BATF operation. Once confronted with obvious falsehoods within the letter, DOJ officials have officially confirmed the letter contained numerous inaccurate details. How those false statements to Congress got into that letter, nobody at the DOJ seems to know.
In an attempt to find out who lied to Congress, DOJ Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole delivered 14,000 pages of Justice Dept documents to Capital Hill on Friday. All the documents relate to the now-infamous letter.
The February letter to Congress strongly insisted that the accusation that BATF agents "sanctioned or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons" was completely false. The letter also went on to insure outraged Congressman that the BATF makes “every effort” to stop illegally sold firearms before they cross the border into Mexico. Now, Attorney General Eric Holder admits that his agency lied to Congress with regard to the claims made within the February letter.
In fact, DOJ officials had full knowledge of the sale of thousands of assault weapons by the BATF to the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. Republican Congressmen, lead by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), are demanding to know who’s responsible for the false statements within the letter, as well as insisting on “accountability” for the DOJ lawyers that misled them.
An NPR article quotes Beth Levine, lead investigator for Congressional Republicans and spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), “After a first glance at today's document dump from the Justice Department, there appears to be even more questions for Assistant Attorney General Breuer, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein and former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.” Those three individuals appear to be garnering the most Congressional scrutiny at this point in the investigation. Levine assured angry legislators, “The congressional investigators will continue to scour the documents over the upcoming days and will have further questions for department officials."
Some of the information already pulled from the 14,000 documents includes the possible source of the false statements to Congress in the February letter of denial. Statements made by senior BATF officials and US Attorneys from Arizona claimed, “ATF doesn't let guns walk" and "we always try to interdict weapons purchased illegally." Both those statements turned out to be blatantly untrue.
Another source of the false information was the Arizona US Attorney’s office under Dennis Burke. Officials there not only lied to DOJ about the dates the guns were sold, but also about the overall length of the program.
A more direct and obvious target of the Congressional investigation is senior aide Jason Weinstein from the DOJ’s Criminal Division. He not only played a large role in drafting the dishonest letter to Congress, but he is the official that gave approval for wiretaps to investigate exactly what the BATF was doing by repeatedly selling assault rifles to Mexican drug cartels. Congressional Republicans have already charged that Weinstein was derelict in his duties and should have investigated further regarding the DOJ’s monitoring of the BATF’s Fast and Furious program. Justice officials insist that Weinstein’s contributions to the letter in question were all originally supplied by the BATF and the US Attorney’s office.
Justice Department senior Criminal Division official Lanny Breuer, and Weinstein’s boss, should have viewed the letter before it was provided to Congress. He even forwarded a copy of the letter to his private email address. When the seriousness of the false statements became apparent, Breuer informed Congress that he never saw the letter beforehand. With evidence found in the 14,000 pages of documents Friday that he emailed it to himself, he’s having a difficult time maintaining his innocence.
The most blatant charge of providing false information was leveled at the former US Attorney in Arizona Dennis Burke. He was not only the BATF’s gun-runners most ferocious defender, but he was also the most vicious and derogatory when referring to Congressional Republicans, especially Sen. Charles Grassley and his staff. Burke has since resigned.
The NPR article quotes former US Attorney Burke as calling the gun-running charges “categorical falsehoods”. He also accused Sen. Grassley’s staff of, “acting as willing stooges for the Gun Lobby.” He said the claims of BATF gun-trafficking were, “reckless despicable accusation” and the charges “among the lowest acts I have ever seen in politics.” Burke’s attorney now says he didn’t knowingly lie to Congress. Instead, he was relying on information from his staffers who in turn were relying on field reports from the BATF.
Among the 14,000 documents provided to Congress Friday by the DOJ, numerous drafts of the letter to Congress were found. They showed that officials at the highest level of the Justice Department saw and signed-off on it. Among all the above individuals involved in providing the false information to Congress, only one DOJ official could be found to even remotely challenge the claims being made. NPR quotes an email chain of DOJ officials debating the language of the letter. DOJ’s Lisa Monaco challenged the use of such definitive words as “categorical”. It suggests there was already suspicion within the agency that not all the information being claimed by DOJ was one hundred percent factual.
The Justice Department has come under heavy fire lately with numerous scandals. Aside from repeatedly closing down marijuana clinics in the various states where medical marijuana is legal and violently arresting wheelchair-bound Iraq and Afghan war vets and 90 pound cancer victims, the DOJ has also fallen on the wrong side of the law.
It was only two weeks ago that the six Justice Department lawyers who prosecuted former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens did so by withholding evidence. Stevens, the longest serving Republican Senator in American history, was convicted of taking $250,000 in gifts and bribes. The Federal judge who convicted Stevens in 2008, overturned the ruling in 2009. In accusing the Justice Dept lawyers of “significant, widespread and at times intentional misconduct”, the judge also insisted the DOJ attorneys were guilty of “systemic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated his defense and his testimony.” In other words, Sen. Stevens would have been found innocent were it not for DOJ covering-up the evidence that would have cleared his name.
In that case, the Justice Department makes the incredulous defense that the judge never specifically instructed them not to break the law and withhold evidence. Therefore, they did nothing wrong. Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘No Charges for Busted DOJ Lawyers’.