Transcript: Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony on Operation Fast & Furious

Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Operation Fast and Furious on Nov. 8, 2011

Transcript of Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony:

Attorney General Eric Holder testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Operation Fast and Furious. IMAGE SOURCE:

“Chairman [Sen. Patrick] Leahy, Ranking Member [Sen. Chuck] Grassley and distinguished members of this committee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today.

“Over the last three years, I have been privileged to address this committee on numerous occasions and to partner with many of you in advancing the goals and the priorities that I think we all share. I’m extremely proud of the department’s historic achievements over the two years. Despite significant financial constraints, we have effectively confronted a range of national security threats and public safety challenges. And I’m especially pleased to report that our efforts to combat global terrorism have never been stronger.

“Since I last appeared before this committee in May, just three days after the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden came to a successful end, the department has achieved several additional milestones.

“For example, last month we secured a conviction against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for his role in the attempted bombing of an airplane traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day 2009. We also worked closely with our domestic and international partners to thwart an attempted plot allegedly involving elements of the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States on American soil. We have also disrupted numerous alleged plots by homegrown violent extremists, including one targeting a military recruiting center in Washington state and another targeting U.S. soldiers in Texas. Meanwhile in one of the most complex counter-intelligence operations in history, we brought down a ring involving 10 Russian spies. And just last week, a federal jury in Manhattan convicted Viktor Bout, one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, for his efforts to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including 800 surface to air missiles and 30,000 AK-47s, for use in killing Americans.

“On other fronts, the department has made extraordinary progress in protecting civil rights, combatting financial fraud, safeguarding our environment, and advancing our fight against violent crime. We have filed a record number of criminal civil rights cases. In the last fiscal year, our Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section opened more investigations, participated in more cases, and resolved more matters in any other similar time period in the last dozen years. The section is also immersed in reviewing over 5,500 submissions for review under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, including redistricting plans and other proposed state and local election law changes that would impact the access that some Americans would have to the ballot box.

“We’ve also worked to ensure that states do not institute an unconstitutional patchwork of immigration laws. In recent months, the department has challenged immigration-related laws in several states that directly conflict with the enforcement of federal immigration policies. Not only would these laws divert critical law enforcement resources from the most serious public safety threats, they can lead to potentially discriminatory practices and undermine the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities that they serve.

“The department has also focused its efforts in the fight against financial fraud over the last two years by spearheading the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force and successfully executed the largest financial and health care fraud takedowns in history. In addition, we secured a conviction in the biggest bank fraud prosecution in a generation, taking down a nearly $3 billion fraud scheme. And through our aggressive enforcement of the False Claims Act, a law significantly strengthened in recent years by the actions of this committee, we have secured record-setting recoveries that exceeded $8 billion since January of 2009. Now I am proud of these and many other achievements, and I am committed to building on this progress.

“Although I hoped to spend much of our time together discussing the work that’s ongoing throughout the department, I’d like to take a moment to address the public safety crisis in guns flowing across our borders into Mexico and the local law enforcement operation known as ‘Fast and Furious’ that has brought renewed public attention to this shared national security threat.

“Now, I want to be very clear: any instance of so-called ‘gun walking’ is simply unacceptable. Regrettably, this tactic was used as part of Fast and Furious, which was launched to combat gun trafficking and violence on our southwest border. This operation was flawed in its concept and flawed in its execution. Unfortunately, we will feel the effects for years to come as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crime scenes both here and in Mexico. This should never have happened, and it must never happen again.

“To ensure that it will not, and after learning about the allegation raised by ATF agents involved with Fast and Furious, I took action. I asked the department’s Inspector General to investigate this matter, and I ordered that a directive be sent to the department’s law enforcement agents and prosecutors stating that such tactic violate department policy and will not be tolerated. More recently, the new leadership at ATF has instituted reforms to prevent such tactics from being used in the future, including stricter oversight procedures for all significant investigations.

“Now today, I’d like to direct some of the inaccurate and, frankly, some of the irresponsible accusations surrounding Fast and Furious. Some of the overheated rhetoric might lead you to believe that this local Arizona-based operation was somehow the cause of the epidemic of gun violence in Mexico. In fact, Fast and Furious was a flawed response to and not the cause of the flow of illegal guns from the United States into Mexico. As you all know, the trafficking of firearms across our southwest border has long been a serious problem – one that has contributed to the approximately 40,000 deaths in Mexico in the last five years. As Sen. [Diane] Feinstein highlighted last week, of the nearly 94,000 guns that had been recovered, that had been traced to Mexico in recent years, over 64,000 of those guns were sourced to the United States of America – 64,000 of 94,000 guns sourced to this country.

“The mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious, serious though they were, should not deter or distract us from our critical mission to disrupt the dangerous flow of firearms along our southwest border. I have supported a number of aggressive, innovative steps to do so, and our work has yielded significant successes. We have built crime-fighting capacities on both sides of the border by developing new procedures for using evidence-gathering in Mexico to prosecute gun traffickers in U.S. courts; by training thousands of Mexican prosecutors and investigators; by successfully fighting to enhance sentencing guidelines for traffickers and straw purchasers; and by pursuing coordinated multi-district investigations of gun trafficking rings.

“This year alone, we have led successful investigations into the murders of U.S. citizens in Mexico, created new cartel-fighting prosecutorial units, and secured the extradition of 104 defendants wanted by U.S. law enforcement, including the former head of the Tijuana cartel. Now, this work has undoubtedly saved and improved lives in United States as well as in Mexico. And I am personally committed to combatting gun trafficking and reducing the alarming rate of violence along the southwest border by using effective and appropriate tools.

“Like each of you, I want to know why and how the firearms that should have been under surveillance could wind up in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. But beyond identifying where errors occurred and ensuring that they never occur again, we must be careful not to lose sight of the critical problem that this flawed investigation has highlighted: we’re losing the battle to stop the flow of illegal guns to Mexico. This means, I believe, that we need to have a responsibility to act. And we can start by listening to the agents, the very agents who serve on the front lines of this battle and testified here in Congress. Not only did they bring the inappropriate and misguided tactics of Operation Fast and Furious to light, they also sounded the alarm to Congress that they need our help.

“ATF agents who testified before the House Committee this summer explained that the agency’s ability to stem the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico suffers from a lack of effective enforcement tools. One critical first step should be for Congressional leaders to work with us to provide ATF with the resources and the statutory tools it needs to be effective. Another would be for Congress to fully fund our request for teams of agents to fight gun trafficking. Unfortunately, earlier this year the House of Representatives actually voted to keep law enforcement in the dark when individuals purchase multiple semi-automatic rifles and shotguns in the southwest border gun shops. Providing law enforcement with the tools to detect and disrupt illegal gun trafficking is entirely consistent with the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, and it is critical to addressing the public safety crisis along the southwest border.

“Now as someone who has seen the consequences of gun violence first-hand – and who has promised far too many grieving families that I would do everything in my power not only to seek justice on behalf of their loved ones, but also to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies – I am determined to ensure that our shared concerns about Operation Fast and Furious lead to more than headline-grabbing Washington ‘gotcha’ games and cynical political point scoring.

“We have serious problems to address, and we have sacred responsibilities to fulfill. We must not lose sight at what’s really at stake here: lives, futures, families, and communities. When it comes to protecting our fellow citizens and stopping illegal gun trafficking across the southwest border, I hope that we can engage in a responsible dialogue and work toward common solutions. And I hope that we can begin that discussion today.”



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12 Comments on “Transcript: Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony on Operation Fast & Furious

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