House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said this week that he was “never” briefed about what was going on in Operation Fast and Furious and that ATF agents who ran an April 2010 briefing he attended “never mentioned ‘Fast and Furious’ by name.”
That contradicts contemporaneous documents prepared for that meeting as well as the claims of officials familiar with the briefing, who say Fast and Furious was, in fact, discussed in detail. Still, Issa’s office says staffers at the meeting don’t recall Fast and Furious coming up and say they weren’t given the briefing materials.
An official with knowledge of the meeting told TPM that Fast and Furious was one of “several cases that were briefed in great detail” at Issa’s April 2010 briefing. The official specifically said that the names of the operations were mentioned in the briefing, which was run by former ATF Director Ken Melson.
“Specifically with regard to this investigation, what was briefed was the number of weapons that had been purchased, the types of weapons, caliber, the amount of cash that had been spent by the traffickers, the different techniques that ATF was using to investigate and the different techniques that ATF was using to further the investigation,” the official told TPM.
The official told TPM that ATF briefers talked about straw purchasers, the fact that guns had gone to Mexico and been recovered in Mexico, coordination efforts between ATF and Mexico in the case and the volume of weapons that were being purchased by individuals during the briefing Issa attended.
Documents prepared by ATF officials for Issa’s briefing back up that narrative, detailing specific developments in Operation Fast and Furious.
An Issa spokeswoman said the claim was “recycled nonsense intended to draw attention away from what Justice officials knew about Operation Fast and Furious.”
“These documents were not given to Rep. Issa or the Oversight Committee until June of this year and indicate only what ATF and the Justice Department knew,” Becca Glover Watkins told TPM in an email. “During the April 2010 briefing, Operation Fast and Furious was not mentioned by name and these documents were never shared with Members of Congress or staff at the briefing.”
That officials in Washington differ in their recollections of an 18-month-old briefing wouldn’t be entirely surprising, or indeed always news. In fact, TPM obtained some of the documents about the meeting back in June (before the Washington Post published their own account in which a source familiar with the session said Issa was briefed on everything he’d “been screaming about”) but at the time elected not to publish a story about them because at the time the dispute was about the facts of the case, not the content of the meeting.
But Issa’s recent rhetoric about Fast and Furious has changed the picture. Issa said that Holder’s contention that he had “no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it” indicates at best “negligence and incompetence in your duties as Attorney General” and at worst “places your credibility into serious doubt.”
He’s also subpoenaed the Justice Department over the controversy, a move Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings called “a deep-sea fishing expedition” and a gross abuse of authority. “Rather than legitimate fact-gathering, this looks more like a political stunt,” Cummings said.
Appearing on Greta Van Susteren’s show this week, Issa said that Fast and Furious was not mentioned at the April 2010 briefing, adding that he would have stopped the program if he knew about it. Issa has also fairly pointed out that the Attorney General has more responsibility for keeping his department in order that he does as a member of Congress.
Separately, a Justice Department official told TPM they were certain that Melson was the official who briefed then-Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler in March 2010, throwing a bit of a cog in this narrative:
Gary Grindler, the then-Deputy Attorney General and currently your Chief of Staff, received an extremely detailed briefing on Operation Fast and Furious on March 12, 2010. In this briefing, Grindler learned such minutiae as the number of times that Uriel Patino, a straw purchaser on food stamps who ultimately acquired 720 firearms, went in to a cooperating gun store and the amount of guns that he had bought. When former Acting ATF Director Ken Melson, a career federal prosecutor, learned similar information, he became sick to his stomach: “I had pulled out all Patino’s — and ROIs is, I’m sorry, report of investigation — and you know, my stomach being in knots reading the number of times he went in and the amount of guns that he bought.”
As TPM previously reported, Melson didn’t personally review the hundreds of documents in the case until the controversy went public in early 2011, far after he briefed Grindler in March 2010 and Issa in April 2010.
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