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Thursday
Feb282013

Eric Holder’s Contempt for Contempt

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder shrugged off the House’s move to hold him in contempt last year because he didn’t respect the votes by those who chose to do so.

In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview on Wednesday, ABC News’ Pierre Thomas asked Holder how he reacted when House Republicans voted with 17 Democrats to hold him in contempt of Congress last June over the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Fast and Furious” gun scandal.

“It’s something that I think was unfortunate,” Holder said.  “I think it’s a result of this kind of partisan sport that I think we engage in here in Washington far too often.”

Holder said the votes didn’t bother him, considering who cast them.

“But I have to tell you that for me to really be affected by what happened, I’d have to have respect for the people who voted in that way,” he told ABC News.  “And I didn’t, so it didn’t have that huge an impact on me.”

All but three House Republicans voted to hold Holder in contempt.  Two of them, Reps. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., have since left Congress -- meaning Holder does (or did) not respect most of the current Republican House delegation.

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., voted against holding Holder in contempt, and House Speaker John Boehner didn’t vote, meaning Holder’s blanket statement does not apply to those two.

At issue was Holder’s compliance with a House subpoena to turn over documents related to the ATF’s Fast and Furious program to disseminate and track guns in Mexico.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., spearheaded the crusade against Holder and the Fast and Furious program, repeatedly accusing the attorney general of obscuring facts and refusing to comply with his investigation, and insinuating that top officials at the department, including Holder, likely knew about the program before terminating it.

The Justice Department maintained that it had consistently complied with Issa’s requests and that it had produced every kind of document typically handed over under such circumstances.

Holder took another jab at Republicans when asked about the current partisan stalemate over deficit reduction and the looming automatic budget cuts, which Holder says will interfere with vital law-enforcement missions and endanger U.S. security.

When asked about how much of the blame Obama’s administration deserves, Holder said he wasn’t sure “it’s an awful lot.”

“I mean, I think this president came into office with the notion that he wanted to change how Washington does business.  I think this president has extended his hand on any number of occasions,” he said.

“And I think we’ve seen too often the opposition not being what I would call a responsible opposition party, but a part that simply is opposed to anything the president has wanted to do,” Holder said.  “And I think that has led to partisan gridlock that the American people are not satisfied with and that frankly does not serve the interests of this nation.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug022012

Fast and Furious Fallout: Former Deputy Director Leaving ATF

Ryan Kelly/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The former Deputy Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has left the agency in the wake of the fallout from the Fast and Furious gun walking scandal. William Hoover was no longer employed at the agency as of Aug. 1, 2012, according to an ATF spokesman. Officials declined to comment further citing the Privacy Act.
 
Hoover had served as the Deputy Director of the Bureau since February 2007 and was in that position during the Fast and Furious gun running scandal. Prior to being the number two at the ATF, Hoover had served as the Assistant Director for Field Operations. He joined the ATF in 1987 after having worked in Virginia at several law enforcement agencies. He had also served as special agent in charge of Boston and Washington Field Offices before going to the ATF Headquarters.
 
Under Fast and Furious ATF, agents recorded and tracked straw purchases of weapons which were allowed to walked across the U.S. border into Mexico and into the hands of cartel members. The ATF operation took a tragic toll when two guns linked to the operation were found near slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry on Dec. 14, 2010.
 
Hoover had been briefed on Fast and Furious by ATF Agent William Newell who had been the special agent in charge overseeing the case. In March 2010 Hoover became concerned about the number of guns involved in the case and ordered ATF agents in Phoenix to wrap the case up in 90 days.
 
Hoover was among five ATF officials recently named in a Congressional report responsible for the botched gun running operation. The report, released earlier this week and prepared by Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, noted of Hoover and ATF Assistant Director Mark Chait, “Assistant Director Mark Chait and his superior, Deputy Director Hoover, had several opportunities to put an end to the operation but failed to do so. Hoover knew that Newell had employed risky tactics in the past as SAC yet failed to monitor him closely. Either Hoover did not ask the right questions or simply turned a blind eye to the unavoidable reality that reckless gunwalking tactics were being used again in Fast and Furious.”
 
Although Hoover had ordered his agents to wrap up the investigation within 90 days in March 2010 indictments were not returned by federal grand juries until January 2011.
 
Hoover was reassigned to a subordinate position last October when the newly appointed Acting Director of the ATF Todd Jones shook-up senior staff positions.
 
Last August Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona where operation Fast and Furious was overseen resigned from the Justice Department. The assistant U.S. attorney who helped run the program, Emory Hurley, has also been reassigned from working on criminal cases and is currently assigned to the civil division at the Arizona U.S. attorney’s office. William Newell was reassigned to ATF Headquarters from overseeing the Phoenix Field Office.
 
The Justice Department’s Inspector General report into Fast and Furious is expected to be released in the next several weeks.

Issa's investigation into the unfolding scandal led to contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General Eric Holder, who was accused of shepherding the Fast and Furious -- and hiding documents about it. Prior to the contempt vote in June, President Obama asserted executive privilege to "freeze" some of the documents Holder refused to provide to Issa's House probe.
 
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov222011

Rick Perry: Eric Holder Should Quit over Gunrunning Scandal

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Hours before the second foreign policy debate this campaign season, Rick Perry called for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder based on his handling of Operation Fast and Furious, and should Holder refuse to resign, the Texas governor says President Obama should fire him.

“Mr. Holder’s proclaimed ignorance leaves Americans to draw one of two conclusions: Either he is guilty of extraordinary bureaucratic incompetence or he is guilty of a cover-up meant to shield him from the consequences of an operation that has left at least one federal agent dead and continues to imperil many more,” Perry wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Times. “Either way, it is high time for Mr. Holder to step down. If he refuses to resign, Mr. Obama must fire him immediately.”

Perry is the second presidential candidate to call for Holder’s resignation after Rep. Michele Bachmann voiced her position last week.

Perry highlighted the impact of the operation and detailed the information Holder provided during a congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, in which federal agencies allowed weapons of all kinds to get into the hands of criminal elements over the border.

“Hundreds of Fast and Furious firearms have been implicated in criminal activity, and another 1,400 firearms are on the street because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives engaged in gun-walking -- the selling of firearms to straw purchasers in an attempt to locate major weapons traffickers in Mexico. This controversial tactic, involving thousands of weapons, means that brave law enforcement personnel along the border remain at risk,” Perry wrote in the op-ed. “As details come to light, a larger shadow has been cast on Mr. Holder. When initially asked under oath to say when he first knew about Fast and Furious, Mr. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, ‘I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.’

“But the evidence casts serious doubt over that claim. First, President Obama had commented publicly on the operation, noting on March 22 -- more than a month before Mr. Holder’s sworn statement -- that an inspector general had been assigned to investigate the matter.”

Perry, a border state governor, criticized Holder for not apologizing immediately to the family of slain border patrol agent Brian Terry.

“Under the attorney general’s leadership, our nation’s top law enforcement agency proactively armed some of the most dangerous criminal organizations in North America, and at least one American is dead as a direct result. The damage done to Mr. Holder’s credibility is irreparable,” Perry wrote. “Moreover, Mr. Holder never apologized to -- or even spoke with -- the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Terry until he was confronted by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, earlier this month, nearly a year after Terry’s murder.”

“America simply cannot tolerate an attorney general who arms the very criminals he is supposed to protect us from and then refuses to comfort the grieving parents of a slain Border Patrol agent. Nor can we tolerate a president who lacks the courage to take decisive action in restoring justice to the Department of Justice,” Perry continued. “It is time for Mr. Holder to go.”

Speaking at a Federal Law Enforcement Foundation luncheon last Friday in New York, Perry called Fast and Furious an “ill-conceived operation.”

Perry has heightened his attacks on Democrats in the past week as he has attempted to paint himself as the Washington “outsider” by picking battles with President Obama, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Steny Hoyer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

Top DOJ Official Admits Mistakes on ATF Gun Case Briefings

Photos.com/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has admitted that he made mistakes after being briefed last year about questionable tactics from a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gunrunning investigation.

Breuer apologized Monday for not raising the issue in 2010 with senior leadership within the Department of Justice as prosecutors moved to indict the case, which spanned back to 2006.

Documents and Justice Department e-mails sent to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday as part of the congressional investigation into the ATF’s gun operation Fast and Furious reveal new information into another controversial ATF operation, called Wide Receiver.
Operation Wide Receiver pre-dated Fast and Furious, originating in March 2006 during the Bush administration.

The ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona were investigating the gun trafficking case but did not press charges until the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Gang Unit moved forward with the case in 2009 and moved to bring indictments in 2010.

As Wide Receiver moved closer towards indictment, Justice Department officials in the criminal division noted serious concerns about ATF’s tactics in the case by letting guns walk into Mexico.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein wrote in an April 12, 2010 e-mail that he wanted to set up a briefing for Assistant Attorney General Breuer with the gang unit and officials at ATF Headquarters.

“Knowing what I now know was a pattern of unacceptable and misguided tactics used by the ATF, I regret that I did not alert others within the leadership of the Department of Justice to the tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver when they first came to my attention,” Breuer said in a statement released Monday.

The documents were released Monday  as part of the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious — the ATF operation that allowed guns to “walk” across the U.S. border into Mexico in an effort to locate major weapons traffickers, rather than catching the low-level buyers. The operation took a tragic toll when two weapons found on the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010 were linked to Fast and Furious.

Breuer and Attorney General Eric Holder have been held to task about what they knew about operation Fast and Furious. Attorney General Holder maintained he did not know the specifics of the ATF strategy when pressed at a Congressional hearing last spring.

Breuer is expected to testify by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday on the topic of organized crime.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct072011

Holder Issues Fiery Response to Critics on ATF Gun Operation

Chris Hondros/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder accused congressional Republicans of “irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric” over claims that he misled Congress when he was questioned earlier this year about a botched Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms operation that resulted in guns flowing into Mexico.

“I have not spoken at length on this subject out of deference to the review being conducted, at my request, by our Department’s Inspector General,” Holder wrote in a fiery letter to the chairmen of three congressional committees Friday.  “However, in the past few days, the public discourse concerning these issues has become so base and so harmful to interests that I hope we all share that I must now address these issues notwithstanding the Inspector General’s ongoing review.”

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a series of Justice Department memos sent to Holder about the gun trafficking investigation known as Fast and Furious.

The operation took a tragic toll in December 2010, when two weapons found on the scene where border patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered were linked to the ATF program. Other weapons from the program have been linked to a slew of crimes in Arizona and Mexico.

The controversy that boiled to a head this week centers on testimony Holder provided to the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2011. During that hearing, Rep. Darell Issa, R-Calif., who is spearheading the Congressional investigation, asked Holder, “When did you first know about the program officially, I believe, called Fast and Furious — to the best of your knowledge, what date?”

Holder answered: “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

When the briefing memos were released Thursday showing that Holder had been sent memos going back to July 2010 on the program, Republican members of Congress tore into Holder.

“Attorney General Holder has failed to give Congress and the American people an honest account of what he and other senior Justice Department officials knew about gunwalking and Operation Fast and Furious,” Rep. Issa said. ” The lack of candor and honesty from our nation’s chief law enforcement officials in this matter is deeply disturbing.”

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, called on Holder to resign.

On Wednesday, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., told the publication the Daily Caller, “When you facilitate that and a murder or a felony occurs, you’re called an accessory. That means that there’s criminal activity.”

The comment raised Holder’s ire. He wrote to the members of the oversight committees, “I simply cannot sit idly by as a Majority Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered ‘accessories to murder.’  Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms. Those who serve in the ranks of law enforcement are our Nation’s heroes and deserve our Nation’s thanks, not the disrespect that is being heaped on them by those who seek political advantage.  I trust you feel similarly and I call on you to denounce these statements.

“Much has been made in the past few days about my congressional testimony earlier this year regarding Fast and Furious,” he added. “My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout.  I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it.  Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation and it is my understanding that the former United States Attorney for the District of Arizona and the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of ATF have told Congress that they, themselves, were unaware of the tactics employed.  I understand that they have also told Congress that they never briefed me or other Department leadership on the misguided tactics that were used in Fast and Furious.”

“In the past few days,” he said, “some have pointed to documents that we provided to Congress as evidence that I was familiar with Fast and Furious earlier than I have testified.  That simply is not the case and those suggestions mischaracterize the process by which I receive information concerning the activities of the Department’s many components.  On a weekly basis, my office typically receives over a hundred pages of so-called ‘weekly reports’ that, while addressed to me, actually are provided to and reviewed by members of my staff and the staff of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.

“The weekly reports contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week,” he wrote. “Sometimes, the summaries are simply a sentence-long and other times they consist of a paragraph.  In some cases, the summaries are of policy-related issues or upcoming events.  In other cases, the summaries are brief, high-level reviews of pending matters or investigations.

“As I have said, the fact that even a single gun was not interdicted in this operation and found its way to Mexico is unacceptable,” he said. “Equally unacceptable, however, is the fact that too many in Congress are opposed to any discussion of fixing loopholes in our laws that facilitate the staggering flow of guns each year across our border to the south.  I cannot help but note that at the same time that some members of Congress understandably criticize the Fast and Furious operation, they vehemently refuse to consider whether ATF has the resources and legal tools it needs to do its job – tools that would be entirely consistent with the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

“Until we move beyond the current political climate – where real solutions take a back seat to both political posturing and making headlines on cable news programs, and is deemed more important than actually solving our country’s difficult challenges — nothing is going to change,” Holder concluded in the 5-page letter. “I hope we can engage in a more responsible dialogue on this subject in the future.  There is much we all need to do together to stop gun violence on both sides of the border and make our Nation safer.”

After reviewing the letter, Frederick Hill a spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “If Attorney General Holder had said these things five months ago when Congress asked him about Operation Fast and Furious, it might have been more believable.  At this point, however, it’s hard to take at face value a defense that is factually questionable, entirely self-serving, and a still incomplete account of what senior Justice Department officials knew about gun walking.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Aug302011

ATF Shake-Up Comes after Government Gun-running Scandal

ATF(WASHINGTON) -- Ken Melson, the man who oversaw the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during the controversial “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking operation is leaving ATF and returning to Justice Department headquarters.

Two other top officials involved in the “Fast and Furious” operation resigned or were reassigned, the department announced Tuesday.

Melson headed the ATF when the bureau ran the botched gun-running investigation in Arizona. The program -- allegedly meant to track illegal gun sales -- actually allowed hundreds of assault rifles and other weapons to be illegally sent to Mexico, with some firearms going to drug cartels. Guns from the program have also been traced to a series of crimes in Arizona -- including the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

The Department also announced Tuesday that Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona where operation Fast and Furious was overseen, was resigning. Additionally, the assistant U.S. attorney who helped run the program, Emory Hurley, has been reassigned from working on criminal cases and will now work in the civil division at the Arizona U.S. attorney’s office.

Under “Fast and Furious,” ATF agents recorded and tracked straw purchases of weapons and allowed the guns to “walk” across the U.S. border into Mexico in an effort to locate major weapons traffickers, rather than catching the low-level buyers. The operation took a tragic toll when two weapons found on the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered were linked to the ATF program. The bloodshed didn't end there: the thousands of assault rifles and pistols -- which were completely operational and deliberately allowed to get into criminals' hands -- have been linked to 11 other violent crimes as part of the seemingly endless, and increasingly bloody, drug cartel violence over the border. Some of the 2,500 weapons included dozens of the fearsome, military-grade Barrett .50 sniper rifle, so powerful it can kill at 2,000 meters, or even severely damage airplanes in flight.

A Congressional investigation into the program has revealed numerous shortcomings and poor oversight of the program, which was overseen by the ATF field office in Phoenix and the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona. 

According to administration officials, Attorney General Eric Holder pushed for the personnel moves to provide stable leadership at ATF. Holder claims he has pushed for the department’s inspector general to review the “Fast and Furious” program, but the status of that review is unknown.

U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has lead the charge into the investigation of Fast & Furious. Rep. Issa has claimed Holder is "stonewalling" the inquiry. President Obama has denied he knew of the operation. Of this, Issa has said, "President Obama has been keen to talk about who didn’t know about the program and who didn’t authorize it. These answers will not suffice.  The American people have a right to know, once and for all, who did authorize it and who knew about it."

Last month, appearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the former head of the ATF’s Phoenix office admitted that mistakes were made in the controversial gun trafficking operation. William Newell, the ATF agent who helped oversee the operation told the committee, “I recognize that in retrospect there were mistakes made in how we handled this investigation.”

The committee has requested numerous documents and testimony from ATF agents and Department of Justice officials as they looked into the operation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul072011

ATF Chief Secretly Tells Congress about Controversial Gun Program

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) voluntarily appeared before two congressional oversight committees and revealed that senior Justice Department officials tried to limit his communications with Congress about an investigation into a controversial ATF program known as "Fast and Furious," according to a letter from the heads of two oversight committees.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have been investigating a program where ATF agents recorded and tracked straw purchases of weapons and allowed the guns to "walk" across the U.S. border into Mexico in an effort to locate major weapons traffickers.

Rather than appear with lawyers from the Justice Department and the ATF, Acting Director Ken Melson hired his own private attorney and secretly appeared before congressional investigators on July 4.  According to sources close to the investigation, Melson had previously wanted to testify before the oversight committees but Justice Department officials sought to delay his testimony.

Melson's testimony came weeks after three current ATF agents who were involved with the program testified before Congress about the botched operation and how the ATF failed to stop guns from going to Mexico.

The operation took a tragic turn in December 2010 when two weapons found at the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered were linked to the ATF program.  According to reports by the ABC News affiliate in Phoenix, other guns from the program have now been linked to additional crimes.

ATF officials say they were trying to build cases that would allow them to target senior drug cartel leaders and key weapons traffickers, not low-level gun runners.

According to a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Grassley, Melson expressed dismay over how the operation was run and that "he was sick to his stomach" when he reviewed internal documents.  The letter also notes that Melson's testimony corroborated information that the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI may have had a role in the operation.

The letter sent to Attorney General Holder notes of Melson's testimony: "He was candid in admitting mistakes that his agency made and described various ways he says that he tried to remedy the problems.  According to Mr. Melson, it was not until after the public controversy that he personally reviewed hundreds of documents relating to the case, including wiretap applications and Reports of Investigation (ROIs).  By his account, he was sick to his stomach when he obtained those documents and learned the full story."

Melson testified that he and top management at ATF moved to reassign supervisors working on Fast and Furious and that officials at the DOJ allegedly tried to prevent ATF from notifying the oversight committees about the full nature of the management moves.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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