Connecting the Dots on Fast and Furious
When Eric Holder testified last December before the House Judiciary Committee about the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal, he proclaimed in his opening statement that the Justice Department had been "fully cooperative and responsive in its dealing with Congress."
But later during the hearing, Florida Congresswoman Sandy Adams asked Holder about his communications with his top aides concerning Fast and Furious.
When Eric Holder testified last December before the House Judiciary Committee about the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal, he proclaimed in his opening statement that the Justice Department had been "fully cooperative and responsive in its dealing with Congress."
But later during the hearing, Florida Congresswoman Sandy Adams asked Holder about his communications with his top aides concerning Fast and Furious.
"Did you at any time -- at any time -- e-mail on your personal account with Larry Breuer -- Lanny Breuer and Gary Grindler in regards to Fast and Furious ever?" asked Adams.
Holder: I don't know.
Adams then asked, "[W]ould you check and get back with us? If you need some help, I'm sure your agency personnel can get into those computers."
Holder responded that he would not provide any e-mails written after February 4, 2011 -- when a false letter concerning Fast and Furious had been composed and sent to Congress from the Justice Department.
"It is not our intention to provide e-mail information consistent with the way in which the Justice Department has always conducted itself," Holder said.
Congressman Darrell Issa from California later asked Holder if he would provide e-mails and communications past February.
Holder: As I have indicated, we are not going to be turning over after February...
Issa: Are you aware of the fact that by doing so, that the fact that we have already issued a subpoena, you are standing in contempt of Congress unless you give a valid reason[?] ... [O]therwise you will leave the committee no choice but to seek contempt for your failure to deliver or to cite a constitutional exemption.
Holder: We will respond in a way that is consistent with the way in which the Justice Department has always responded to those kinds of requests.
Earlier in the same hearing, Issa had asked Holder if he would appear in January without a subpoena before the Oversight Committee, which he chairs.
"I will not," replied Holder.
Issa asked Holder again. "I will consider any request that you make," replied Holder.
In mid-December, Issa sent Holder a letter requesting him to appear in late January. On December 21, Ronald Weich, Holder's legislative assistant, sent a terse response, saying Holder would agree to come on Feb. 2 but adding that "it is difficult to see how the American people will be served by yet another congressional hearing on this subject[.]"
Two days prior to the hearing, on the 31st of January, Issa sent Holder a letter demanding that he comply by February 9 with a subpoena sent the previous October. The letter included a request for all Fast and Furious communications and documents between Holder and fifteen other Justice Department staff, with some of whom he has had long and close personal ties.
Issa also noted in his letter that Holder had decided to release material related to the false letter sent the previous February "only after [Oversight] Committee staff informed [Justice] Department lawyers that the Committee was considering a criminal referral." Issa added that Holder was "disingenuous to claim that this was a voluntary effort to be transparent."
The letter concluded that if Holder did not produce the documents by February 9, then the Oversight Committee would "have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress."
On the first of February, Holder's second in command, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, sent Issa a response, asking for more time. Cole added that "the department was willing to turn over some such records, but that certain categories would be off limits[.]"
Also on the 1st, the Issa committee released a report stating that "for months, the Department has stonewalled committee document requests and refused to comply with committee subpoenas. The Department has produced scores of blacked-out pages containing no information and many duplicative documents in order to bolster its page count."
The report added that the Justice Department had delivered fewer than eight percent of the known Fast and Furious documents and had refused to allow access to numerous witnesses who were involved with the operation.
The report concluded that the Department has blamed everyone else for Fast and Furious, including "the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) Phoenix Field Division, and even ATF headquarters."
When Holder appeared before the Oversight Committee on February 2nd, his position remained rigid, beginning with his opening statement. To wit, "[s]uch candid internal deliberations are necessary to preserve the independence, the integrity and the effectiveness of the department's law enforcement activities and would be chilled by the disclosure to Congress of such materials."
Issa asked if Holder would provide the legal opinions to justify withholding the material. Holder responded that, "to the extent that I can, I will make those available to you."
Issa responded by saying that executive privilege is narrow and well-defined and that "if you do not find a legitimate basis to deny us the material we've asked for, we will seek the necessary remedies to compel."
Later in the hearing, Holder angrily responded to Congressman Scott Desjarlais of Tennessee that "there's no attempt at any kind of cover-up...we are talking about not providing deliberative material, and that's consistent with what executive agencies beyond the justice department always do."
So here are some questions that beg to be answered. Just how deeply were the Justice Department and Eric Holder involved in Fast and Furious? And what did they know, and when did they know it?
Mr. Holder was sent many more memos concerning Fast and Furious than has previously been reported. According to Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, at least thirteen are known to have been forwarded to Holder. Last October, Sharyl Attkisson of CBS first had reported the existence of just two memos.
The first was a weekly report sent on July 5, 2010 from Michael Walther, the director on the National Drug Intelligence Center, and it went to Holder through Gary Grindler, who was then Holder's acting deputy attorney general and number-two.
Mr. Grindler is from Georgia, and he had been a member of the law firm that succeeded in gaining an acquittal in 1980 for President Jimmy Carter's budget director Bert Lance against bank fraud charges. Both Grindler and Holder began serving in Bill Clinton's Justice Department in 1997. Holder served as deputy attorney general, while Grindler's main focus would soon be defending Clinton from impeachment -- an issue that Holder had also worked on.
The memo that Grindler forwarded to Holder in July 2010 mentioned Operation Fast and Furious and noted that Manuel Celis-Acosta, who ran a drug-trafficking ring and was also an FBI/DEA confidential informant, was a straw purchaser involved with others who were "responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug trafficking cartels."
The memo then noted that "[t]hey also have direct ties to the Sinaloa Cartel which is suspected of providing $1 million for the purchase of firearms in the greater Phoenix area."
But, as it turns out, Holder received several more weekly reports from the NDIC through Mr. Grindler. The first known memo was actually sent on June 28, 2010, and they continued through at least August 9, 2010. The last memo states the following:
Investigation: Operation FAST AND THE FURIOUS
Region Arizona, Texas, Mexico
Targets Manuel Celis-Acosta
Drugs-crime Firearms trafficking through straw purchases
Participants ICE. Phoenix (AZ) Police Department
ICE is the Immigration and Customs service. The memo also notes that ATF Phoenix is the requesting agency.
But nearly four months before Grindler had begun forwarding the NDIC reports to Holder, he had forwarded him a weekly report from acting ATF director Melson on March 1, 2010. The words "Fast and Furious" weren't included in the memo, but it clearly dealt with the program.
The report stated that ATF "Seizes 41 Firearms En Route to Mexico -- Phoenix, Arizona." The memo made note that on February 22, 2010, the ATF had reported on a firearm trafficking organization operating in Phoenix, and that agents had tracked a firearm that was sold to a target by a federal firearms licensee (gun shop dealer).
Agents had tracked the gun to an Indian reservation near the Mexican border. Border Patrol agents stopped the vehicle in question ("en route") and recovered 41 firearms, and the two female occupants stated that they were taking the weapons into Mexico.
Grindler himself had attended an ATF monthly meeting on March 12, 2010. Included in his handwritten notes, Grindler wrote: "Operation The Fast & Furious. Long rifles. Seizures in Mexico. Links to Cartel."
On a map of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico, Grindler wrote "seizures in Mexico" in the area where the Arizona-Mexico border is located. On another page lined with rows of AK-47s, Grindler wrote: "Multiple sales. Followed to 3 stash houses. Need regulation."
Days after the July 2010 NDIC/Grindler memo was first released to the public by CBS last October, Holder issued an angry letter in response to Congress. He wrote that memos sent to him "are actually provided to and reviewed by members of my staff and the staff of the Office of Deputy Attorney General."
But in an interview with the Oversight Committee just last December, Grindler claimed that his staff was responsible for alerting him to any problems during Fast and Furious. Grindler maintained that he knew incredibly little about Fast and Furious, and if there were problems, he expected his staff to bring it to his attention.
But the NDIC report from August 2010 concerning Fast and Furious was not the last one forwarded to Holder. Another was sent on January 31, 2011. But this time it was not through acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler, but from Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
In late December, Cole had been recess-appointed by Obama. He had been nominated in May of 2010 after the sudden departure of David Ogden. Cole's nomination had languished, mainly because of a controversial article he had written in 2002 saying that terrorism was not an act of war, but a crime. He also equated terrorism to rape, child abuse, and murder.
Cole has known Eric Holder since 1979 -- when he had arrived at the Public Integrity Section three years after Holder -- and they served there together until Holder departed in 1988. The two were in a small group of lawyers known as "the puppy prosecutors," and their members frequently played poker together. Cole went into private practice in 1992 and three years later was named special counsel by the House Ethics Committee to handle the investigation of Newt Gingrich, which would lead to the speaker's reprimand and a $300,000 fine in 1997.
After Cole's recess appointment to deputy attorney general in late 2010, he was sworn into office in early January and would finally be confirmed in a narrow vote in the Senate in June of 2011, after promising to release more Furious and Furious information -- a promise which Senator Grassley would later complain was not fulfilled.
Grindler, meanwhile, was now a man without a job. But he would be named Holder's chief of staff in January of 2011, after the departure of Holder's longtime associate Kevin Ohlson. Mr. Ohlson, who had aided Holder's obsession to obtain clemency for the FALN terrorist group in the 1990s, would be nominated by Obama in May 2011 to be an appellate military judge, but the nomination is being held up because he admitted to receiving Fast and Furious memos. And like Holder, he said he never saw them.
As for Cole, he has recently been trying to act as something of an honest broker between demands from Congress for material related to the scandal, but according to congressional sources, he's not really trusted.
The January 2011 memo that Cole forwarded to Holder from NDIC showed that Fast and Furious was an investigation of the OCDETF, a task force specializing in disrupting drug-trafficking and money-laundering. This time, the region was Phoenix, Douglas, and Nogales, Arizona, as well as El Paso, Texas.
Again, Celis-Acosta was the target for the straw purchase of firearms for the Sinaloa cartel. This time, the ATF was listed as a participating agency.
It should be noted that I have twice contacted Mr. Cole's office at the Justice Department about the memo. I have yet to receive any response.
The memo from James Cole was not the only correspondence that Holder received on January 31 related to Fast and Furious. He was also e-mailed a letter from Senator Grassley about possible ties of "Project Gunrunner" to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in southern Arizona the previous December.
That same day, Grassley hand-carried a copy of that letter to Holder (which was also addressed to ATF acting director Kenneth Melson). Grassley carried another letter with him as well. It was a copy of one sent only to Melson four days earlier.
The two men discussed the issue, and Holder would later say this was the first time he had heard that Agent Terry's murder nearly two months earlier was possibly caused by a government operation. Within hours, staff at the Justice Department, along with members of the ATF and U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix, began to prepare a false letter in response to Senator Grassley.
Among the people involved in the preparation of that letter were the head of the Criminal Division at Justice -- Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer -- and his chief aide, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein.
The second of the Holder Fast and Furious memos reported in the bombshell story from CBS's Sharyl Attkisson last October was sent from Breuer. And, just as in the case of Gary Grindler, there was more than one memo sent from Lanny Breuer to Eric Holder.
Breuer was a longtime associate and friend of Eric Holder. He followed in Holder's footsteps at both Columbia University and Columbia Law School. After serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York from 1985 to 1989, he joined the power law firm of Covington Burling in Washington, D.C.
In 1997, Breuer was hired by the White House, and he (like Grindler over at Justice Department) became part of the Clinton impeachment defense apparatus. When Breuer left the White House in 1999 after helping to successfully defend Mr. Clinton, he returned to Covington Burling. He was joined at the firm by Eric Holder in 2001, after Holder's controversial and scandalous tenure as Clinton's deputy attorney general was complete.
In April of 2009, Breuer was confirmed as head of the Criminal Division at Justice following Holder's confirmation as attorney general two months earlier. In May, Breuer hired Jason Weinstein as his deputy, who had come from the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.
The Fast and Furious Breuer/Holder memo that was first reported by CBS was dated the week of November 1, 2010, and Breuer had also sent a copy to Grindler. Breuer had noted that an indictment in a Tucson gun-trafficking case (Operation Wide Receiver) would be sealed until the Phoenix-based Fast and Furious was ready for a "takedown."
Another memo from Breuer to Holder would later be discovered. In the week of October 25 (and sent one week prior to the one first reported), Breuer mentioned the impending indictment from the Tucson case. A copy of the memo was also forwarded to Grindler.
Only days before the first memo was sent, Breuer's aide, Jason Weinstein, and James Trusty (who was in the Justice Department Gang unit) exchanged e-mails on October 17 and 18 about an upcoming press conference that Breuer was going to participate in.
"It's a tricky case, given the number of guns that have walked," wrote Weinstein. Trusty replied that "[i]t's not going to be any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in MX [Mexico], so I'm not sure how much grief we get for 'guns walking.'"
On Monday, January 31, 2011, when Holder received the bombshell letters from Senator Grassley about the potential cause of Terry's death (as well as the NDIC/Cole memo about straw purchases of firearms for the Sinaloa cartel), and hours before Breuer and Weinstein became involved in what would be a false response to Grassley, what did Attorney General Holder do?
Just this past week, Holder told the House Appropriations Committee, while pounding his fist into his desk for emphasis, that "one thing that has to be understood, is once this was brought to my attention, I stopped it. I stopped it."
But, besides meeting with Senator Grassley on January 31, there is no known record of Holder's actions that day. On the morning of Tuesday, February 1, Holder attended a cabinet meeting which included President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano (who is a former governor of Arizona -- the state where Terry had been murdered).
According to the White House Press office, the president discussed national security issues, Mrs. Clinton spoke about the situation in Egypt, and Ms. Napolitano noted that severe winter storms were about to affect many parts of the country. There is nothing in the press release concerning Mr. Holder.
At 3:00 that afternoon, Holder attended a photo-op on human trafficking with Napolitano and Clinton, where he also made brief remarks. But Holder has repeatedly testified that he has never spoken with either of them about Fast and Furious.
As for Obama, Holder told J.J. Green of WTOP-FM last December that he meets with the president every Tuesday afternoon, "and we talk about things that are of concern to the [national security] team and the president."
When Holder first testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the deadly operation on May 3, 2011, he told Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah that he didn't know who had briefed the president about the program. Before the committee last December 8, Chaffetz asked Holder if he had spoken directly to Obama about Fast and Furious.
"I don't think I have," Holder replied.
At the recent Oversight hearing earlier this month, he told Chaffetz that he's now had "passing conversations with the President just about the fact of my testifying in connection about Fast and Furious."
Holder had left Washington on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 to meet with law enforcement officials in Poland, and he returned on Friday, the fourth. He would still have had daily briefings prepared, which he could have read at any time. The day he returned happened to be the same day that the false letter was officially sent from Holder's legislative assistant Ronald Weich to Senator Grassley.
When Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last November 8, he told Senator Grassley that after receiving the two letters from him on January 31, "I asked my staff to look into this." But within hours, both Lanny Breuer and Jason Weinstein became involved in the frantic effort to send what turned out to be a false letter to the Iowa senator.
Breuer and Weinstein were already involved with Fast and Furious by late January, and both also knew of Project Wide Receiver. The two programs were both under the umbrella of Project Gunrunner, which began as an experiment at Laredo ATF in 2005 and went national in 2006.
Wide Receiver was run out of the Phoenix field division in Tucson in 2006 and 2007. The program was done in conjunction with Mexican authorities, and all guns were to be traced.
However, most of the 450 guns slipped through, either because of lax enforcement or the efforts by the straw purchasers to avoid tracking. The operation was shut down in October 2007.
In late 2009, however, Operation Fast and Furious was born out of the ATF Phoenix office, the creation of William Newell, the Special Agent in Charge. On December 3, Ken Melson e-mailed Lanny Breuer. "We have decided to take a little different approach[.]" Assuming the guns were traced, Melson wanted to work on a number of traces collectively in larger seizures. "Let me know what you think," Melson wrote.
Breuer responded by saying, "We think this is a terrific idea[.]" Breuer assigned the case to Joseph Cooley from the Justice Department Gang unit. On March 5, 2010, Cooley attended a conference at ATF headquarters in Washington, D.C. At a previous meeting in January, several there had expressed opposition because of the potential for gun-walking.
At the March meeting, it was clear that guns were walking, and there was only token opposition. But Cooley spoke up and said that the movement of guns into Mexico was an acceptable practice.
Cooley, in effect, was Lanny Breuer's eyes and ears for Fast and Furious for the time being, and the meeting took place exactly one week before Grindler was also briefed on the project.
On March 10, five days after Cooley was briefed, Breuer authorized wiretaps for Fast and Furious. After the operation became public, both Breuer and his deputy, Jason Weinstein, denied viewing the application in detail. The Justice Department has so far failed to release the wiretaps.
On April 12, Weinstein e-mailed Kevin Carwile (who supervised the Gang unit) and James Trusty about Wide Receiver. "ATF HQ should/will be embarrassed that the let this many guns walk[.]" On April 30, Weinstein e-mailed Breuer that "ATF let a bunch of guns walk[.] ... Some were recovered in MX after being used in crimes."
On July 1, Weinstein received an e-mail from Carwile, who mentioned two cases in Arizona. "One is a gun trafficking case with apparent ties to the Tucson case (Wide Receiver) ... and the other is a gun and drug trafficking case (Fast and Furious)."
In October, the infamous "tricky case" e-mail exchange involving gun-walking occurred between Weinstein and Trusty, shortly followed by memos sent from Breuer to Holder about the cases involving both Operation Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious.
Then came the letters from Grassley's office in late January about Project Gunrunner allegedly causing the death of Agent Terry. The first letter sent to Melson on the 27th received no response. The second letter was addressed to both Holder and Melson on the 31st, but it was only after both the first and second letters were e-mailed and personally hand-carried to Holder by Grassley that the frantic efforts to produce the false response to the senator began.
At 8:30 pm, Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix, e-mailed Weinstein that Grassley's accusations were categorical falsehoods. At 9:15, Weinstein e-mailed Burke and Breuer to the effect that "I agree completely. This is a really important briefing for ATF -- they need to nail it." Weinstein then offered to help prepare the response.
At 9:30, Breuer returned Weinstein's message. "What's this about? What did Grassley say?" Weinstein replied that Grassley suggested that ATF prosecuted only straw purchasers, as opposed to cartel members, and that one of the weapons in the case had killed Agent Terry.
At 9:45 am on February 1, Breuer e-mailed Burke of the need for the ATF "to address the assertions right away." Breuer departed for a scheduled trip to Mexico but still kept abreast of events. At 7:12 that night, Breuer e-mailed both Weinstein and Burke. "Jason, Let me know what's happening with this. Thanks for getting involved. Lan[.]"
By 5:20 pm on the 2nd, and after several drafts had been completed, Weinstein e-mailed Breuer and Burke that "The Magna Carta was easier to get done than this was." At 8:50 that night, Breuer e-mailed the revised draft to his personal gmail account.
By the afternoon of the 3rd, revisions were still continuing, and now a dozen people from ATF, the Justice Department, and the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix were involved. By 5:00 on the afternoon of Friday the 4th, the letter was complete and had been signed by Weich.
At 1:51 pm on Saturday, Breuer forwarded the final draft to his personal gmail account. The subject was "Revised draft letter to Grassley per input received from all -- hope this is ready. Thanks. FB" (Faith Burton is the Justice Department Special Counsel). Thirty minutes later, at 2:21, Breuer forwarded the completed "Letter to Senator Grassley" to his gmail account.
When he arrived in Mexico earlier in the same week, Breuer, while keeping tabs on the preparation of the Weich letter (which stated that ATF did not walk guns into Mexico), was meeting with Mexican officials to push that very same idea, and ATF Director Melson was also there for the same purpose.
The Justice Department's Mexican attaché, Tony Garcia, noted Breuer's proposal in an e-mail on the 4th, which was also forwarded to Weinstein, and, in a synopsis on the 8th (also sent to Weinstein), noted that there was an "inherent risk in allowing weapons to pass from the US to Mexico, the possibility of the GoM [government of Mexico] not seizing the weapons; and the weapons being used to commit crime in Mexico."
Several problems have now arisen in recent months for both Breuer in Weinstein. When Breuer was preparing to testify before the Senate last November, a plan was concocted where he would admit to learning about gun-walking in Wide Receiver in April 2010 -- which had ended in 2007 -- and thereby attempt to shift the political blame to George Bush.
On November 1, he testified that he also expressed regret for not informing either Holder or Grindler about the earlier program and for not making the connection between gun-walking and Fast and Furious.
But Grassley pounced immediately, noting that Breuer was now admitting his knowledge of gun-walking in Wide Receiver, and the response that he had he received in the Weich letter concluded that "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico."
Breuer responded to Grassley by saying that "I cannot say for sure whether I saw the draft of the letter that was sent to you."
But in early December, the e-mail exchanges were released publicly -- exchanges which showed the intense efforts to respond to Grassley and the fact that Breuer had kept abreast of the effort. And the most damning fact was that Breuer had received both the drafts and the final version of the letter as well, and had forwarded them to his personal e-mail account.
On December 2, Deputy Attorney General Cole sent a letter to Congress formally withdrawing the Weich letter because it "contains inaccuracies." But Cole still attempted to lay the blame elsewhere, writing that the Justice Department "relied on information provided by supervisors from ... ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona."
And in a written response to congressional investigators that same week, Breuer repeated his claim that "I cannot say for sure" whether he had viewed the drafts.
As for Weinstein, he at least knew about gun-walking during Wide Receiver when preparing the letter, but he also tried to shift the blame. He told congressional investigators that "I wish I had not placed such faith in the assurances ... of the U.S. Attorney's Office [in Phoenix] and the ATF."
Another key question is exactly what Mr. Holder was told in the hours following the murder of Agent Terry on December 15, 2010.
A late Friday evening document release from the Justice Department last January involving e-mail exchanges immediately following Terry's death proved to be heartbreaking. It also answered some questions but left others unanswered, while at the same time leaving many tantalizing clues.
At the time of Brian Terry's death, Monty Wilkinson was Mr. Holder's deputy chief of staff. He has worked for Holder in four different venues since 1989 and had always served as his counsel. Last September, the Main Justice website called Wilkinson "one of the Attorney General's oldest and most trusted associates." When then-Deputy Chief of Staff James Garland returned to the Covington Burling firm in August of 2010, Wilkinson filled the position.
On the morning of December 14, 2010, at 11:18 am, and only hours before Agent Terry was wounded, Wilkinson e-mailed Dennis Burke, then the U.S. attorney from Arizona, the following: "You available for today?"
Burke had been the chief of staff for Janet Napolitano when she had served as Arizona governor. Earlier in 2010, the responsibility for prosecuting Fast and Furious cases had been shifted to Burke in Arizona from Joseph Cooley at the Gang unit in Washington.
At 2:14 am on the 15th, apparently not knowing that Terry was mortally wounded, Burke returned Wilkinson's e-mail. "Sorry for going dark on you...I did get your vm [voice mail]. We have a major gun trafficking case connected to Mexico we are taking down in January. 20+ defendants. Will call today to explain in detail."
At 2:31 am, a bulletin came into the OIOC-SITROOM (Office of Intelligence and Operations Coordination, which is a part of the Customs and Border Patrol and Homeland Security Department):
SHOTS FIRED INJURY-DEATH
On December 14, 2010, a BORTAC (Border Patrol Tactical Unit) agent working in the Nogales, AZ AOR (area of operations) was shot. The agent was conducting Border Patrol operations 18 miles north of the international boundary when he encountered approximately 4 unidentified subjects.
Shots were exchanged resulting in the agent being shot. At this time, the agent is being transported to an area where he can be air lifted to an emergency medical center. One subject is in custody and three are outstanding. A search for subjects is ongoing.
Updates to follow.
At 3:31 am, Burke was informed in a short and brutal e-mail that "agent has passed away."
At 9:41 am, Burke e-mailed Wilkinson: "Not good. 18 miles w/in."
At 10:05, Wilkinson e-mailed back. "Tragic. I've alerted the AG, the Acting DAG, Lisa, etc." Wilkinson was referring to Holder, Grindler, and Lisa Monaco, who was a chief adviser to Grindler.
At 11:16 am, Wilkinson e-mailed Burke to "please provide any additional details as they become available to you. Thanks, Monty."
At 7:22 that night, Burke e-mailed Wilkinson that "[t]he guns found in the desert near the murder[ed] BP [Border Patrol] officer connect back to the investigation we were going to talk about -- they were AK-47's purchased at a Phoenix gun store."
Five minutes later, Wilkinson responded. "I'll call tomorrow."
Throughout that day, a flurry of e-mails had also been exchanged between members of the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona. At 10 am, Shelly Clemens, an attorney from the Tucson office, e-mailed Burke that Terry "was part of the BORTAC team. They were out look[ing] trying to track rip-off groups. They think that is what this group was part of."
By that evening, everyone in the attorney's office knew -- just as Wilkinson did -- that two guns found at the crime scene were linked to the Fast and Furious operation.
Two days later, at noon on December 17, acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler was also informed of the Fast and Furious link to Terry's death.
Brad Smith of Grindler's office forwarded an e-mail to Grindler, Lisa Monaco, and three others from Grindler's office: Deborah Johnston, Stacey Luck, and Mark Michalic. Smith, Monaco, and Johnston would also be involved in composing the false letter to Grassley less than two months later. Monaco is currently head of the National Security Division at Justice, which oversees and prosecutes counterterrorism and espionage cases.
Smith wrote that "Mark [Michalic] and I just wanted to pass along a few quick ATF-related updates we received from Billy Hoover [Deputy Director of ATF]...we wanted to make sure you were aware of the issues...you may recall that a CPB border agent [Terry] was killed on Tuesday in a firefight in Arizona...two of the weapons recovered from the scene [AK-47 variants] have been linked to [the] ... Fast and Furious operation."
Smith also included an attached briefing paper which detailed the case. A supplemental attachment mentioned that Jaime Avila, who had been a target of the investigation, had purchased the two guns from the Lone Wolf gun shop in Glendale, Arizona (the owner had agreed to cooperate with the ATF).
After the e-mails concerning the knowledge of Wilkinson and Grindler came to light, the Justice Department quickly sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee that Wilkinson "does not recall" discussing the fact with Eric Holder that two guns involved in the deadly operation were found at Agent Terry's murder scene.
And Gary Grindler has told congressional investigators that he knew little of Fast and Furious and had counted on his staff to bring problems to his attention. Mr. Grindler, of course, had been briefed on Fast and Furious in March 2010, had forwarded several memos to Holder about the program, and was thoroughly briefed on the reasons behind Brian Terry's death just two days after Terry's murder.
And Eric Holder's testimony before Congress about the immediate aftermath of Terry's death has not been entirely consistent either concerning his contacts with Wilkinson, nor concerning when he first learned of the real cause of Terry's death.
When asked by Senator Grassley last November whether he spoke to either Grindler or Wilkinson about guns from Fast and Furious being tied to the murder, Holder replied that he had not.
Holder also testified to the Senate that he first learned of the possibility of the connection with the guns to the murder when Grassley personally gave him the two letters addressing the issue on January 31, 2011. But Holder had previously told Congressman Darrell Issa on May 3, 2011 that he had "probably heard about Fast and Furious over the last few weeks."
The time elapsed between his revised timeline is now thirteen weeks and four days (or three months and four days). On December 8, 2011, Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee and gave yet another timeline.
"Soon after learning about the allegations raised by ATF agents involved in Fast and Furious, I took action designed to ensure accountability. In February, I asked the department's acting Inspector General [Cynthia Schnedar] to investigate the matter." Holder has stated that he made that request on February 28, 2011, four full weeks after receiving the letters from Grassley.
But in a Washington Post article dated October 5, two months before his December testimony, Holder's spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that Holder first became aware of gun-walking "only when ATF agents first flagged them publicly in March. Holder then asked the agency's inspector general [Schnedar] to conduct an investigation, which is ongoing."
It should further be noted that Holder keeps referring to the internal investigation, even though Ms. Schnedar compromised it by leaking out secret tapes related to the investigation. Holder has also testified that he has a good relationship with Schnedar. And that is true, because it was found that Schnedar had previously worked with Holder in the Washington U.S. attorney's office during the 1990s; Holder had likely hired her as an assistant U.S. attorney in 1994.
When Holder testified about the Wilkinson/Burke e-mails before the House Oversight Committee last February 2, Congressman Issa stated "that Mr. Monty Wilkinson may have informed you of Agent Terry's murder in a timely fashion. Is that true?"
Holder: He may have...I don't know if it came from Monty Wilkinson or some other member of my staff, but I knew about the murder within 24 hours of its occurrence.
When Issa asked if Holder was told at that point about the weapons located at the murder scene, Holder replied, "No," and then repeated his position of not knowing of it until January of 2011. Issa then asked Holder if he could provide the name of the person who informed him about it, and Holder veered off his talking points.
"I mean, I found out about it, as I said, I think, in January, February of 2011 and I'm not even sure how I found out about it. It might have been even through -- even a letter from Senator Grassley on February 9, I'm not sure if he -- if it was contained in there...I -- I again, I'm not exactly sure how I found out about Fast and Furious."
Congressman Dennis Ross from Florida later asked Holder if Wilkinson had informed him of Terry's death. "I don't know. I'm not sure who told me," Holder replied.
Ross then quoted from Wilkinson's e-mail where he had informed U.S. Attorney Burke that he had "alerted" Holder of Terry's death.
Holder: Well, he notified me, but I'm not saying it's entirely possible that I knew about it before Monty told me...
Ross: OK. And you've no reason to dispute that Monty told you about it?
Holder: Yeah, I suppose he did.
Holder quickly added that he could have received the information from a variety of places.
Ross then mentioned the e-mail where Burke had informed Wilkinson that guns connected to the operation were tied to the murder. Ross asked Holder if he knew of that e-mail exchange.
"No, I wasn't...I was not told about this. I was unaware of this," Holder replied.
No one has yet been held accountable for Fast and Furious, and Holder keeps stating that he wants to wait for the inspector general's report, even though that investigation began a full year ago. Seven ATF staff have been reassigned, but all are still on the government payroll. Dennis Burke of the U.S. attorney's office resigned and was joined by Assistant Attorney Patrick Cunningham last January, after he refused to testify and resigned to take a job in the private sector.
In December, Holder told Congressman Ben Quayle from Arizona that "on the basis of information I have now," he would not fire Breuer, Grindler, or Weinstein. But in spite of Mr. Holder's assertions (and Grindler's claim of ignorance), the evidence shows at the very least that Grindler knew the reason behind Terry's death within two days of its occurrence and knew many details of the disastrous operation as early as March 2010.
As for Breuer and Weinstein, the evidence is clear that at the very least, they knew of previous gun-walking, and despite Breuer's claims of ignorance and Weinstein's finger-pointing, they knowingly participated in sending a false letter to Congress.
Two longtime Holder associates -- Monty Wilkinson, who was informed of the reason behind Terry's death just hours after it occurred, and Kevin Ohlson, who had received Fast and Furious memos but claims never to have seen them -- remain at Justice, but now in different venues. Joseph Cooley, Lanny Breuer's point man in the early days of Fast and Furious, who had verbally approved of gun-walking back in 2010, still remains in the Gang unit.
James Cole, who sent the last known Fast and Furious memo to Holder in January 2011, remains as deputy attorney general. The staff involved in sending his predecessor Gary Grindler the report informing Grindler of the reasons behind Terry's death just two days after his murder still remain in the Justice Department.
As for Eric Holder, his ever-changing claims of what he knew and when he knew it simply defy logic, along with the fact that he has received more than a dozen memos about the program and that so many people in his orbit knew the facts and/or were covering it up. Adding the fact that the operation involved walking 2,000 firearms from the U.S. into Mexico, for Mr. Holder not to be aware of what was going on is something akin to a miracle.
In one of his various versions of events noted earlier, Holder testified last November that when receiving the letters from Senator Grassley about the possible cause of Brian Terry's death, he had "asked my staff to look into this." Did he ask his close friend and counsel Monty Wilkinson, who knew the reason for Terry's death within hours? Did he ask his number two, Gary Grindler, or any of Grindler's staff, all of whom knew how Terry died just two days afterward?
And Mr. Holder apparently was unaware of gun-walking in Texas, which has now been connected to the murder of U.S. Immigration Officer Jaime Zapata in Mexico on February 15, 2011. He must also have been unaware of a gun-walking program called "Operation Castaway," run through the ATF in Tampa, which has put guns into the hands of violent gangs in Honduras, resulting in several violent crimes.
At the recent House Oversight hearing on February 2, Dan Burton from Indiana -- who was the former chairman -- told Holder that "I remember when you were with Janet Reno as the deputy attorney general, and we fought to get documents. And we had a difficult time. You said here today that there are certain documents that you will not give us because of the separation of powers.
"Now we've been down that road before. And we got them. But we had to threaten that we would have a contempt citation in Congress...but this committee is the Oversight Committee and we have every right under the Constitution to check on what you're doing...and I don't think you're going to find a way that you can do it."
The reference that Burton made to Janet Reno is correct. In 1998, then-Attorney General Reno was cited for contempt by the House Oversight Committee during the impeachment investigation for refusing to hand over documents related to the fundraising investigation of President Clinton.
That same year, as proceedings moved toward a vote in the full House of Representatives, Reno dropped her opposition and agreed to provide the memos, saying she "sought to balance" the constitutional responsibilities of Congress with law enforcement.
Over the last thirty years, time and again, after a contempt citation was filed by either a House or Senate committee, compromise was reached before a full vote in the corresponding body.
During the Bush administration, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers were cited for contempt in the U.S. attorney firings, but a deal was worked out before a full House vote. In 1996, Clinton aide Jack Quinn (who would later conspire with Holder during the Marc Rich pardon) was cited for contempt in the Travel Office firings, but a compromise was reached before a vote in the full House.
In 1982, Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt was cited for contempt over documents related to Canadian energy policy, but a compromise was reached when members of the House were allowed to view them. But the exception to the rule of compromise or capitulation occurred later that same year, and would continue into 1983.
Ronald Reagan's EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) administrator, Anne Gorsuch, was cited for contempt by the House Public Works Committee over documents related to lax enforcement of the cleanup of hazardous waste dumps. In December 1982, she was held in contempt by the House in a bipartisan vote, and was the first Cabinet-level official to suffer that fate. She resigned in March of 1983, and Reagan then gave Congress full access to the documents.
The previous month, Reagan fired one of Gorsuch's top aides, Rita Lavelle, who was in charge of the clean-up fund. In April, Lavelle was cited for contempt by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and in May was found in contempt by the House in a unanimous vote. Lavelle was acquitted in federal court of contempt but later convicted of perjury for lying to Congress and served four months of a six-month sentence in prison. Twenty-two EPA officials, including Burford and Lavelle, lost their jobs over the scandal.
So now the current issue is whether Eric Holder should be held in contempt. The EPA scandal of the Reagan years, and other issues such as the Travel Office and U.S. attorney firings, pale in comparison to the deadly Fast and Furious scandal, along with its apparent