House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa seemed to take offense on Thursday to the suggestion that his committee asked the Justice Department for access to wiretap applications under court seal during his investigation into the botched ATF operation known as Fast and Furious.
“We did not request any wiretaps under seal, since I’m the person who signed the subpoenas,” Issa said after Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) asked what negative impacts the disclosure of wiretap applications would have on ongoing criminal investigations during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.
While the original subpoena did not mention them, Issa has on several occasions requested the Justice Department’s assistance in obtaining wiretap applications, even though the disclosure of such document would be in violation of federal law.
In a draft contempt resolution Issa’s team faulted DOJ for failing to provide such documents. The Committee said it was “seeking documents relating to who had access to information about the objectionable tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious, who approved the use of these tactics, and what information was available to those individuals when they approved the tactics.” Documents in this category, the draft resolution stated “include those relating to the preparation of the wiretap applications, as well as certain ATF, DEA, and FBI Reports of Investigation,” the draft stated (emphasis ours).
In a letter earlier this week, Issa also stated that he and Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote the Justice Department back in February “requesting the Department’s assistance in obtaining the wiretap applications from Operation Fast and Furious.”
Even without DOJ’s assistance, Issa’s committee was able to obtain the wiretap applications from unknown sources. While not revealing the contents of the subpoenas, Issa claimed in a letter to Holder earlier this week that they contained “immense detail about the questionable investigative tactics.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, accused Issa of mischaracterizing the contents of the wiretap applications.
Holder noted during his testimony on Thursday that there was a criminal provision with a five-year penalty for disclosing sealed wiretap applications, but said there were very practical reasons for not disclosing the material as well.
“There are concerns that one would have about people who are involved in these matters. You might put victims’ safety at risk. You might put at risk the success of a prosecution. Those are all the reasons why there are very tight restrictions on the provision of material connected to wiretaps,” Holder said.
Issa spokeswoman Becca Glover Watkins told TPM that Issa was referring specifically to the original subpoena itself and not other communications..
“It certainly noted the wiretap applications but the subpoena - not the draft contempt report - is what spells out what the Attorney General must produce. The wiretap applications were not noted in the subpoena,” Watkins said in an email.
Late update: Cummings issued this statement:
“The Chairman has been demanding these wiretap applications for months and even threatened to hold the Attorney General in contempt for not providing them, yet today he claimed he never wanted them in the first place. It makes no sense to hold the Attorney General in contempt for withholding documents that Chairman Issa claims he never requested. These changing demands raise fundamental questions about the investigation and suggest that it is designed to promote an election-year political agenda rather than obtain needed information.”
The press release from Cummings’ office also points out that the Issa contempt citation “explicitly cites the Attorney General’s failure to turn over the wiretap applications that Chairman Issa subpoenaed.”