The Difference Between Stupid And Really Stupid

Stupid is blowing off a “request” to appear before the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee. The committee was investigating the death of a Federal law enforcement officer, ICE’s Jaime Zapata, by Mexican cartel members using firearms BATFE allowed to be “walked” to Mexico.

This is what BATFE’s Associate Deputy Director Ronald B. “Ron” Turk did on Thursday, March 9th. In response, the committee chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), issued a subpoena for Mr. Turk.

Now that was stupid. Really stupid is what happens next.

Turk did finally appear on April 4th at another House Oversight hearing at which his earlier absence was noted. After getting into it with Rep. Chaffetz about why he didn’t appear when “invited”, Turk made this accusation as he really starts to go off: “You want to get your 15 seconds of YouTube minute time to challenge my honor.” You can see this starting at 4:56 in the attached YouTube video.

It takes Rep. Chaffetz another minute or so of questioning before he really lights into Turk for blowing off the committee and for his YouTube comment. That starts at 7:12 and runs until about 8:04. At this point Turk realizes that he has screwed up and starts to grovel for the remainder of the time.

Bear in mind that Turk is not only the number two person at BATFE but he is also a Brigadier General in the Maryland Air Nation Guard where he serves as Chief of Staff. He didn’t get to those two positions by being a good street agent or a good airman. He got there by being a good politician and a good politician should know when to shut up. That he had that lapse of judgement was a bit surprising given the political astuteness of his leaked white paper. It was really stupid on his part and cements the impression that BATFE is out of control.

H/T CleanUpAtf.org

The Oversight Committee Hearings Today

I was tied up with work all day and wasn’t able to break away to watch the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. They held a hearing today on DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on Operation Fast and Furious.

If you were like me, you had to work as well. Fortunately, the Committee has made the video available of the hearings. You can see them below:

Fast And Furious IG Report, The Hearings, And A Whitewash

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had originally scheduled hearings for today to hear from the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He was to testify on his report regarding Operation Fast and Furious. These hearings have been rescheduled for next Wednesday, September 19th.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa today announced that the hearing previously scheduled for tomorrow to examine the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on Operation Fast and Furious has been rescheduled for Wednesday, September 19. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz has confirmed his attendance for the September 19th hearing where he will discuss his report of the investigation into reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious.

Some reports attribute this delay to the Inspector General’s report not being completely finished.

Horowitz in his letter also advised Issa that he may not be able to testify as scheduled Sept. 11 at a committee hearing about the inspector general’s Fast and Furious findings, if the report is not finished and publicly released by then. “As of this date,” he cautioned, “I do not yet know the precise timing for the release of our report.”

Horowitz noted that Justice officials on Wednesday “provided us with its initial sensitivity review for law enforcement sensitive information” including wiretaps, grand jury material and sealed court records.

“We are in the process of discussing these proposed sensitivity redactions with the Department,” Horowitz wrote in the letter, which arrived Wednesday. “We also are awaiting comments from the department regarding whether any material discussed in the report is covered by the president’s assertion of executive privilege.”

The Inspector General is also allowing Justice Department officials to read the report and provide comments/objections before it is released. It is this last part which concerns former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams. He believes a “fix” is in and notes that the Inspector General never allowed any Bush-era DOJ appointees this opportunity. He suggests that the Oversight Committee ask to see the draft report as it existed before Eric Holder and his minions got a hold of it. I think this is a worthwhile suggestion that will probably be ignored.

Adams believes that this report will be just another whitewash of Obama’s political appointees at DOJ.

It has been amusing watching all the anticipation about the release of the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on Fast and Furious. Some folks in Washington actually think that it will be the key that unlocks the door to the scandal. Balderdash. I’ve watched defective report after defective report come from the Justice Department internal affairs units. In the end, they always protect the institution, unless of course conservatives are in the cross hairs.

Unfortunately, I believe Adams to be correct in his assessment. I don’t think anyone who has followed Project Gunwalker from the early days ever expected the Inspector General’s report to be anything other than a whitewash.

One new development that was reported yesterday is the discovery of some of the gunwalked firearms in Colombia. The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports that 2 rifles and 14 FN Five-Seven pistols seized during a raid of a Colombian crime syndicate have been traced to Project Gunwalker.

U.S. weapons that were exported to Mexico as part of the controversial “Fast and Furious” program ended up in the hands of Colombia crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado, reported newspaper El Tiempo Monday.

According to the newspaper, investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have established that some of the weapons found during the arrest of Oficina boss “Sebastian” were part of the thousands of arms lost in the Fast and Furious program.

“Two rifles that were seized in February with ‘Frank’, the brother of Sebastian also are part of the tracking operations of the ATF, the same with 14 Five-seven guns we have found in several raids,” an anonymous high-ranking source within Colombia’s National Police was quoted as saying by El Tiempo.

The source added that ATF agents are in Medellin where the Oficina operates and inspect every seized firearm found in raids in Colombia’s second largest city.

I think we will see these guns turn up at crime scenes throughout the Western Hemisphere for years to come.

Naming Names

Richard Serrano of the LA Times writes that a report that should be released later this week by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee names five BATFE officials as collectively responsible for Operation Fast and Furious. The report also states that they attempted to hide from the Mexican the fact that is was walked guns that were used in the murder of the Mexican attorney general’s brother.

This report is the first of three to be released. The other two will detail the failure of supervision and leadership by Justice Department officials and will go into the obstruction of the Congressional investigation by the highest levels of the Justice Department. This report is co-authored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

The officials named in the report include William Newell, William McMahon, Mark Chait, William Hoover, and Kenneth Melson.

They found that William Newell, the special agent-in-charge in Phoenix, exhibited “repeatedly risky” management and “consistently pushed the envelope of permissible investigative techniques.” The report said “he had been reprimanded … before for crossing the line, but under a new administration and a new attorney general he reverted back to the use of risky gunwalking tactics.”

His boss, Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, “rubber stamped critical documents that came across his desk without reading them,” the report alleged. “In McMahon’s view it was not his job to ask any questions about what was going on in the field.”

They added that McMahon gave “false testimony” to Congress about signing applications for wiretap intercepts in Fast and Furious.

His supervisor, Mark Chait, assistant director for field operations, “played a surprisingly passive role during the operation,” the report said. “He failed to provide oversight that his experience should have dictated and his position required.”

Above Chait was Deputy Director William Hoover, who the report said ordered an exit strategy to scuttle Fast and Furious but never followed through: “Hoover was derelict in his duty to ensure that public safety was not jeopardized.”

And they said Melson, a longtime career Justice official, “often stayed above the fray” instead of bringing Fast and Furious to an “end sooner.”

The report, while naming Melson as one responsible officials, said that Justice Department officials tried to make him the scapegoat for the operation after his testimony to the committee on July 4th of 2011.

To date, all the men named in the report still hold positions within BATFE headquarters or the Justice Department in the case of Kenneth Melson.

23-17

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee just voted 23 in favor and 17 opposed to send the contempt citation of Eric Holder to the full House of Representatives. They voted, as expected, along party lines.

As a reminder, it only takes one house of Congress to vote in favor of a contempt citation.

Holder’s Testimony Tomorrow – Bush Did It

Attorney General Eric Holder’s prepared statement that will be delivered before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been posted on the committee’s website.

I think I can summarize the gist of it in three words – Bush did it.

The similarities in the arguments between Holder’s testimony and the so-called report released yesterday by the Democrats on the Oversight Committee make a prima facie case for coordination on this by the White House, the Department of Justice, and the Committee Democrats.

Holder’s testimony is below. I have highlighted some relevant passages but have resisted the urge to insert commentary which might be scatological in nature.

Statement of
Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
Before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
United States House of Representatives
February 2, 2012

Chairman Issa, Ranking Member Cummings, and members of the Committee, I am here today because I understand and appreciate the importance of congressional oversight, and because I am committed to ensuring the highest standards of integrity and professionalism at the Department of Justice. That’s precisely what I pledged to do – exactly three years ago tomorrow – when I was sworn in as Attorney General. And it is exactly what I have done.

My dedication to the Department’s mission is shared by an extraordinary group of
colleagues: the 117,000 employees who – each day, in offices all around the world – work tirelessly to protect the American people from a range of urgent and nprecedented threats – from global terrorism and violent crime, to financial fraud, human trafficking, civil rights abuses, and more. Over the last three ears, we’ve made a number of significant improvements, including policy and personnel changes that address many of the concerns that are the subject of this hearing. Today, I’d like to discuss some of these improvements in specific terms – and outline the steps that we have taken to ensure that the flawed tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious – and in earlier operations under the prior Administration – are never again used.

If some of my comments today sound familiar, it is because this marks the sixth time I have answered questions about this operation before a congressional committee in the last year. Let me start, however, with something that cannot be said often enough: allowing guns to “walk” – whether in this Administration or in the prior one – is wholly unacceptable. This tactic of not interdicting weapons, despite having the ability and legal authority to do so, appears to have been adopted in a misguided effort to stem the alarming number of illegal firearms that are trafficked each year from the United States to Mexico. To be sure, stopping his dangerous flow of weapons is a laudable – and critical – goal. But attempting to achieve it by using such inappropriate tactics is neither acceptable nor excusable.

That’s why, when I learned early last year about the allegations raised by ATF agents involved with Fast and Furious, I took action. In addition to requesting an Inspector General investigation last February, I ordered that a directive be sent prohibiting the use of such tactics. There also have been important personnel changes in the Department. And vital reforms reflecting the lessons we have earned from Operation Fast and Furious have been implemented.

Today, I reaffirm my commitment to ensuring that these flawed tactics are never used again. And I reiterate my willingness to work with Congress to address the public safety and national security crisis along our southwest border that has taken far too many lives.

Congress has sought answers to questions about law enforcement Operations Wide
Receiver
and Fast and Furious. And my colleagues and I at the Department of Justice have worked diligently to provide those answers. In addition to my frequent testimony before Congress, I have answered – and am continuing to answer – questions that have been submitted for the record during previous hearings. The Department also has responded to more than three dozen letters from members of Congress and facilitated numerous witness interviews. We also have submitted or made available for review more than 6,400 pages of documents to congressional investigators. This has been a significant undertaking for Department employees – and our efforts in this regard remain ongoing.

We also have provided Congress with virtually unprecedented access to internal deliberative documents to show how inaccurate information was initially conveyed in a letter sent to Senator Grassley on February 4, 2011. These documents show that Department officials relied on information provided by supervisors from the relevant components in the best position to know the facts. We now know that some of the information they provided was inaccurate. We also understand that, in subsequent interviews with congressional investigators, these supervisors have stated that they did not know at the time that the information they provided was inaccurate.

In producing internal communications regarding the drafting of the February 4th etter, the Department made a rare, limited exception to longstanding Executive Branch policy. This decision reflected unusual circumstances and allowed us to respond, in the most comprehensive way possible, to congressional concerns where the Department itself concluded that information in the letter was inaccurate. The documents we produced have answered the question of how that letter came to be drafted and put to rest questions about any intentional effort to mislead. All of our communications to Congress should be accurate and that is the standard I expect the Department to meet. At my direction, the Deputy Attorney General has instituted new procedures to increase safeguards in this area.

As I testified in a previous hearing, the Department does not intend to produce additional deliberative materials about the response to congressional oversight or media requests that postdate the commencement of congressional review. This decision is consistent with the longstanding approach taken by the Department, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and reflects concerns for the constitutionally-protected separation of powers.

Prior administrations have recognized that robust internal communications would be
chilled, and the Executive Branch’s ability to respond to oversight requests thereby impeded, if our internal communications concerning our responses to congressional oversight were disclosed to Congress. For both Branches, this would be an undesirable outcome. The appropriate functioning of the separation of powers requires that Executive Branch officials have the ability to communicate confidentially as they discuss how to respond to inquiries from Congress.

I want to note that the separation of powers concerns are particularly acute here, because the Committee has sought information about open criminal investigations and prosecutions. This has required Department officials to confer about how to accommodate congressional oversight interests while also ensuring that critical ongoing law enforcement decision-making is not compromised, and is free from even the appearance of political influence. Such candid internal deliberations are necessary to preserve the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of the Department’s law enforcement activities and would be chilled by disclosure to Congress of such materials. Just as we have worked to accommodate the Committee’s legitimate oversight needs, I trust that the Committee will equally recognize the Executive Branch’s constitutional interests and will work with us to avoid further conflict on this matter.

I know the Committee also is keenly interested in policy changes that the Department has undertaken in the wake of Operation Fast and Furious. The ATF, which is now under the leadership of Acting Director Todd Jones, has implemented a number of key reforms and critical oversight procedures to prevent such a flawed operation from occurring again. These reforms include: clarifying current firearms transfer policies to more effectively prevent the criminal acquisition, trafficking, or misuse of firearms; implementing a new Monitored Case Program designed to facilitate closer coordination on sensitive investigations between ATF field and headquarters personnel; revising policies regarding the use of confidential informants to, among other things, prevent using Federal Firearms Licensees as paid informants except in limited circumstances; and reinforcing the importance of deconfliction and information sharing so law enforcement agencies can investigate subjects more effectively.

I’m also pleased to report that, under the leadership of the Department’s Criminal
Division, we’ve bolstered crime-fighting capacity on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. We’ve done this by creating new cartel-targeting prosecutorial units; developing new procedures for using evidence gathered in Mexico to prosecute gun traffickers in U.S. courts; training thousands of Mexican prosecutors and investigators; extraditing more than 300 defendants wanted by U.S. law enforcement; successfully advocating for enhanced sentencing guidelines for convicted traffickers and straw purchasers; and pursuing coordinated, multi-district investigations of gun-trafficking rings.

This is an important start, but we have more to do. And no one knows this better than the members of our nation’s law enforcement community – including the ATF agents who testified before this Committee last summer. Not only did these agents bring the inappropriate and misguided tactics of Operation Fast and Furious to light, they also sounded the alarm for more effective laws to combat gun trafficking and improve public safety.

These agents explained that ATF’s ability to stem the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico suffers from a lack of effective enforcement tools. Unfortunately, in 2011, a majority of House Members – including all members of the majority on this Committee – voted to keep law enforcement in the dark when individuals purchase multiple semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and long guns – like AK-47s – in gun shops in four southwest-border states.

In this new year, I hope we can work together to provide law enforcement agents with the tools they desperately need – and have requested – to protect our citizens and ensure their own safety. Indeed, incidents of violence against law enforcement officers are approaching the highest levels we’ve seen in nearly two decades, even though violent crime is down overall. Last year, a total of 177 federal, state, and local officers lost their lives in the line of duty – a 16 percent increase over 2010. More than 70 of these deaths involved firearms – 20 percent more than the previous year. And, since the beginning of this year, an additional 14 officers have been killed – half of them in gun-related incidents.

That is unacceptable. The Justice Department is committed to turning back this rising tide, and to protecting those who serve on the front lines. We’ve designed and implemented a comprehensive new training initiative to provide law enforcement leaders with the information, analysis, and cutting-edge tools they need to respond to a range of threats – including ambush style assaults. We’ve developed and distributed 8,000 Officer Safety Toolkits, and have partnered with public safety professionals at every level to make sure our officers have the communications platforms necessary to share information more quickly – and to more effectively identify and combat threats. And we’ve built a robust network of elationships – between state, local, and tribal authorities; key federal partners; private sector stakeholders; and Cabinet-level agencies – to explore new strategies, invest in critical research, and ensure that this vital work remains a top priority. Let me be clear: nothing is more important than ensuring the safety of the brave law enforcement professionals who put their lives at risk for us each and every day.

But we can’t make the progress we need – and that our law enforcement partners deserve – without your assistance and your leadership. As I have said before, I am determined to ensure that our shared concerns about these flawed law enforcement operations lead to more than wornout Washington “gotcha” games and cynical finger pointing. The Department of Justice stands ready to work with you – not only to correct the mistakes of the past, but also to strengthen our law enforcement capacity in the future.

I look forward to discussing this, and I would be pleased to answer your questions.

The Minority Report Released By Cummings

Here is the full Minority Report released by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings.

You will note that significant effort is put into “Bush did it” claims and that the personnel recommendations note that those involved on the ground have either resigned or be reassigned.

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Preemptive Strike By Cummings And Democrats On Oversight Committee

In what can only be considered a preemptive strike in advance of Attorney General Eric Holder’s appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has released a report from the committee minority staff that blames Project Gunwalker entirely on the ATF Phoenix Field Division. It explicitly exonerates senior DOJ officials including Holder and Lanny Breuer.

From Cummings’ press release:

Cummings Issues Report Detailing Five Years of Gunwalking Operations in Arizona

Comprehensive Report Finds No Evidence that Senior Officials Approved Controversial Tactic

Washington, DC (Jan. 31, 2012)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a 95-page minority staff report entitled “Fatally Flawed: Five Years of Gunwalking in Arizona.” The report describes the results of the Committee’s year-long investigation into the actions and circumstances that led to multiple gunwalking operations in Arizona from 2006 to 2010.

According to a letter Cummings sent to Committee Members accompanying the report, “this report tells the story of how misguided gunwalking operations originated in 2006 as ATF’s Phoenix Field Division devised a strategy to forgo prosecutions against low-level straw purchasers while they attempted to build bigger charges.”

The report finds that this strategy failed to include sufficient operational controls to stop these dangerous weapons from getting into the hands of violent criminals, creating a danger to public safety on both sides of the border. Rather than halting operations after flaws became evident, ATF’s Phoenix Field Division launched several similarly reckless operations over the course of several years, according to the report, also with tragic results.

Cummings’ letter noted that he instructed his staff “to focus on the facts we have discovered rather than the heated and sometimes inaccurate rhetoric that has characterized much of this investigation.”

“Contrary to repeated claims by some, the Committee has obtained no evidence that Operation Fast and Furious was a politically-motivated operation conceived and directed by high-level Obama Administration political appointees at the Department of Justice,” Cummings wrote in his letter. “The documents obtained and interviews conducted by the Committee indicate that it was the latest in a series of reckless and fatally flawed operations run by ATF’s Phoenix Field Division during both the previous and current administrations.”

The report sets forth ten constructive recommendations intended to address specific problems identified during the course of this investigation.

As might be expected from the rabid anti-gunners composing the Democrat side of the committee, many of their “constructive recommendations” are calls for more gun control. They include continuing and expanding the multiple semi-automatic rifle reporting requirement, repealing the Tiahrt Amendment, enactment of a “dedicated firearms trafficking law”,  and more money for ATF.

The New York Times’ Charlie Savage has a long story on this effort by the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee to shield Holder and other DOJ officials. After three paragraphs trumpeting the Democrats’ conclusions and so-called exoneration of Holder, even the Times has to admit the timing is suspect.

Still, because the report was written by Democrats, the political impact of its conclusion exonerating high-level officials of wrongdoing may be limited. Its publication comes two days before Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is to testify before the committee.

In the Times article, there is significant discussion of the letter sent by DOJ to Sen. Chuck Grassley on February 4, 2011 which falsely denied any gun-walking took place. It seems to cast the blame for the false claims on Patrick Cunningham, the former head of the U.S. Attorney for Arizona’s criminal section. Cunningham, you may recall, has elected not to answer questions from Committee investigators and has pled the Fifth.

Trey Gowdy On Cunningham’s Plan To Take The 5th

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was interviewed by Ginny Simone of NRA News yesterday. The first topic that came up was the plans for AUSA Patrick Cunningham, head of the criminal section of the US Attorney’s Office in Arizona, to refuse to answer questions from the House Oversight Committee because it might incriminate him.

Asked his reaction, Gowdy said his first reaction was stunned silence “which is pretty hard to accomplish with a Member of Congress.” He goes on to say that he never thought he’d see a Federal prosecutor take the Fifth Amendment. Gowdy served as a Federal prosecutor himself for six years earlier in his career.