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Congress v. Holder: Despite 'bombshell' wiretap, feds decline to investigate top cop

The US Department of Justice declined to investigate its own chief, Eric Holder, after the House cited him for criminal contempt over the Fast and Furious scandal. But House Republicans say they’ve found a ‘bombshell’ document that suggests DOJ officials knew more than they let on.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / June 30, 2012

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) speaks with an aide during testimony to the House Rules Committee about finding US Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

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ATLANTA

The Justice Department declined on Friday to investigate its own boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, for congressional contempt, even as House Republicans revealed evidence tying some of the government’s top law enforcement officers directly to the Fast and Furious “gun-walking” program, and, by association, the death of US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

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Mr. Holder became the first Cabinet member in history to be cited for contempt of Congress, after he refused to share documents related to a short-lived ATF sting operation in Arizona tied to hundreds of deaths in Mexico and the killing of Mr. Terry in a desert shootout in 2010, where two such guns were found.

Operation Fast and Furious was the largest and most audacious incarnation of a controversial tactic dating back to the Bush administration: Allow known “straw buyers” to buy and deliver US-bought weapons illegally in Mexico, and then build cases against the cartel boss recipients.

But while the sting did yield suspects, it fell apart when 1,400 guns bought under federal supervision in Arizona started turning up at murder scenes in Mexico. Unlike the Bush-era gun-walking programs, the Mexican government says it knew nothing of Fast and Furious. But did Washington?

Whether the disappearance of the weapons is the fault of local ATF agents trying to uphold the law or federal prosecutors overseeing the cases is at the heart of the congressional probe. And therein lies the contempt charge against Holder, whom the House, by a vote of 255 to 67, agreed has stonewalled a 16-month investigation to figure it all out.

The White House says Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, the chief Republican interlocutors, are on a cynical fishing expedition for political dirt, to which the Cabinet won’t condescend. So strongly do congressional Democrats support Holder that dozens walked out of the Capitol on Thursday, arms linked, in protest of a Republican “witch hunt.”

Certainly, Messrs. Issa and Grassley have utilized the power of the minority party to investigate the majority, including the central question of whether higher ups have “blood on their hands” for either approving, participating in, or ignoring the ill-advised program.

On Friday, Issa dropped a letter into the Congressional Record where he writes to Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the panel, that a series of sealed Fast and Furious wiretaps approved by major players in Holder’s DOJ contained a “startling” amount of information and detail about the operation.

For his part, Holder testified on June 7 that “nothing in those affidavits as I’ve reviewed them … indicates that gunwalking was allowed.”

But in his letter, Issa wrote, “The fact that ATF knew that Target 1 had acquired 852 firearms and had the present intent to move them to Mexico should have prompted (Justice Department) officials to act … and shut him and his network down.”

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