The top deputy to Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation on Thursday amid revelations that Operation Fast and Furious scandal guns were used to harm Americans in Phoenix in 2013, a development top congressional Republicans say President Obama’s administration sought to cover up.
Documents released by conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch–and put forward by Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)–show that an assault rifle purchased as part of Fast and Furious was used in a Phoenix-area crime in July 2013 that left two people wounded.
Part of a police report shows the rifle’s serial number, 1977DX1654. Judicial Watch obtained the documents from a lawsuit it filed against the city of Phoenix, Judicial Watch v. City of Phoenix, to get officials to release the documents. Judicial Watch had filed an Aug. 5, 2014, public records request with the city, which it ignored, forcing Judicial Watch to file the lawsuit on Oct. 2.
“Thanks to our lawsuit, Congress has been able to confirm what Judicial Watch already reported–that a Fast and Furious weapon was used in yet another violent crime that terrorized and injured residents of Phoenix,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a Thursday statement:
Our lawsuit against Phoenix exposed how the Obama cover-up of Fast and Furious is ongoing. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice is a mess. It has endangered the public and is engaged in an ongoing cover-up of its insanely reckless Fast and Furious gun-running operation. Judicial Watch appreciates the refreshing diligence of Senator Grassley and Congressman Issa in pursuing the truth about Fast and Furious.
Sen. Grassley and Chairman Issa took that document Judicial Watch obtained and compared it to other documents they obtained from the Fast and Furious investigation to confirm it was indeed bought by a Fast and Furious straw purchaser. They revealed the finding in a Thursday letter to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the number two highest-ranking official at the Department of Justice who announced his plans to resign the DOJ shortly thereafter on Thursday. Cole said in an interview with The Washington Post that he plans to leave because he wants to work in the private sector, but he did not say it had anything to do with Fast and Furious.
“Based on the serial number from the police report obtained by Judicial Watch and documents obtained during our Fast and Furious investigation, we can confirm that the assault rifle recovered in the vehicle on July 30, 2013 was purchased by Sean Christopher Steward,” Grassley and Issa wrote to Cole. “Steward pled guilty to firearms trafficking charges resulting from his involvement with Operation Fast and Furious.”
In Operation Fast and Furious, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents, under the direction of their supervisors, orchestrated situations in which criminals known as “straw purchasers” were allowed to purchase firearms from Phoenix-area gun stores. Straw purchasers are people who buy guns for others, and are regularly employed by criminal enterprises and weapons smugglers for groups like the Mexican drug cartels. Normally, ATF agents arrest such people as they make straw purchases, but during Fast and Furious they did not. During Fast and Furious, the federal agents let the guns and their purchasers get away–and hundreds of guns ended up in the hands of cartel operatives in Mexico. The scandal broke wide open after one gun was used in the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December 2010, but hundreds of Mexicans are thought to have been killed with the guns, and congressional leaders who have investigated the matter say they expect more violence in both Mexico and the U.S.–like this instance in Phoenix–with the Fast and Furious weapons.
Holder, the attorney general, has failed to cooperate with the Fast and Furious congressional investigation led by Issa and Grassley. Holder was voted, on a bipartisan basis, into both criminal and civil contempt of Congress–a first in the history of the United States for a Cabinet-level official–after he failed to provide documents to Issa’s committee pursuant to a congressional subpoena. President Obama himself has asserted executive privilege over many of the Fast and Furious documents, an executive privilege claim that Grassley and Issa say is invalid and unlawful that is currently being litigated in court pursuant to the civil contempt citation. Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, declined to prosecute Holder.
Grassley and Issa say Obama’s executive privilege claim is invalid because he is asserting the lower of two forms of privilege, deliberative process privilege rather than the higher form of presidential communications privilege. If he asserted the latter higher form, Obama would be admitting that either he or his top deputies knew of details of Operation Fast and Furious of which he and his senior advisers have vigorously denied knowledge–and the lower form of privilege, Grassley and Issa have noted, is considered immediately invalid with even the suspicion of government wrongdoing. In Fast and Furious, Obama, Holder, and the rest of the Obama administration have admitted there was not only a suspicion of government wrongdoing, but that government wrongdoing actually occurred.
In this case in Phoenix, shortly after midnight on July 30, 2013, Grassley and Issa wrote to Cole that “the Phoenix Police Department received reports of shots fired at an apartment complex.”
“Responding officers arrived to find two wounded men, one inside an apartment and one outside,” Grassley and Issa wrote, adding:
The men had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, and the front windows and door of the apartment had several bullet holes. Witnesses of the shooting reported that just after the shots were fired, a vehicle sped in reverse through a nearby parking lot and crashed backward into a fence at the apartment complex. Several individuals were then seen running in various directions from the complex. Police discovered an assault rifle in the front passenger area of the vehicle.
That rifle was purchased by the Fast and Furious straw purchaser. What’s perhaps most interesting about this is that Grassley and Issa noted in their letter to Cole that the Obama administration is continuing to withhold from Congress information about crimes in which Fast and Furious guns were used.
“According to the Phoenix Police Department report, ATF traced the firearm on July 31, 2013, the day Phoenix police officers recovered it,” Grassley and Issa wrote to Cole. The pair continued:
Yet, over a full year has passed, and the Department has failed to notify the Committees. The refusal to respond to our standing requests for this information effectively hides the connection between crimes like this and Operation Fast and Furious. Unless the information becomes available some other way, the public would never know. This lack of transparency about the consequences of Fast and Furious undermines public confidence in law enforcement and gives the impression that the Department is still seeking to suppress information and limit its exposure to public scrutiny.
Cole’s resignation won’t actually come until early next year, according to The Washington Post‘s Sari Horwitz–and Grassley and Issa are demanding he answer several questions about the use of Fast and Furious guns in crimes before Oct. 30.
Grassley and Issa asked several questions, seeking specifics:
Was the firearm recovered on July 30, 2013, connected with any other crimes in Mexico or the U.S.? As of the date of this letter, what is the total number of weapons associated with Fast and Furious that have been recovered in the U.S. and successfully traced? As of the date of this letter, what is the total number of weapons associated with Fast and Furious that have been recovered in Mexico and successfully traced? Of the U.S recoveries, how many were recovered in relation to an incident of a violent nature? Please describe in detail the date and circumstances of each recovery that has not previously been described in the Department’s responses to our letters. Of the Mexican recoveries, how many were recovered in relation to an incident of a violent nature? Please describe in detail the date and circumstances of each recovery that has not previously been described in the Department’s responses to our letters.
In addition to Cole’s resignation, Holder recently announced he plans to resign soon, as well–something that came right after a federal judge ordered the DOJ to provide, by Oct. 22, a “Vaughan Index,” or a list of documents President Obama is hiding under executive privilege, descriptions of them, and the reasons the administration thinks they are privilege-worthy, pursuant to another Judicial Watch lawsuit.