Transcript: Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. John Cornyn’s Q&A on Operation Fast & Furious

Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Operation Fast and Furious with Attorney General Eric Holder on Nov. 8, 2011

Transcript of Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) Q&A:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. IMAGE SOURCE: Judiciary.Senate.gov

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Mr. Chairman, for what it’s worth, I agree with Mr. Schumer that we need all the information about these programs and the distinctions that fit in between Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious.

“General Holder, I note that Fast and Furious has had a significant spillover effect in my state of Texas, where 119 of these weapons – the 2,000 weapons that were walked into the hands of the cartels – 119 of them have shown up in crime scenes in my state.

“Investigations by Sen. [Chuck] Grassley have also revealed that the ATF agents that ordered clerks at Houston-based business called Carter’s Country to go through with sales of weapons to suspicious purchasers, some of which had been working as agents of the cartels. On Aug. 7, I’ve sent you a letter asking you about the Texas connections and I got a letter back last Friday from your subordinates saying that you were unable to provide more information at this time.

I’m hopeful that you will be able to provide more information, because we know that the weapons from Fast and Furious have shown up at 11 different crime scenes in the United States. This is far from – as you stated earlier – local law enforcement operation in terms of its impact. Many of these weapons, of course, ended up in Mexico. One, we know, ended up at the crime scene where Brian Terry was murdered by the cartels.

“Let me ask you a little bit about some of this timeline. First of all, on Feb. 4 Assistant Attorney General [Ronald] Weich wrote a letter denying gun walking. And it wasn’t until Nov. 1, 2011 when Lanny Breuer testified that that letter was false – that throughout that period from Feb. 4, 2011 through Nov. 1, 2011 – your department left the impression on Congress that the allegation that the department had engaged in gun walking operations was false, when in fact Mr. Breuer came in on Nov. 1, 2011 said that that letter – sent to Sen. Grassley in response to his inquiry – that that letter was false. How do you account for the fact that the department -for the period of time from February 2011 until November 2011 – had misled Congress about the accuracy of that allegation?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder:

“I think there’s some validity in the concern you raise. As I indicated before…”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“I do too.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Well, I hope so. Your question so I assume you did. Feb. 4 the information that was contained in that letter was thought to be accurate. It wasn’t until some time after that that we had a sense that the information was not in fact accurate. So it wasn’t as if the date upon which  we knew the information was inaccurate was on Feb. 4. It comes sometime after that. I received things as late as March of 2011 from people at ATF who assured me that gun walking did not occur.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“But your department. You said you learned about Fast and Furious – on May 3 you said you learned probably over the last few weeks. Today you say it was over the last couple of months.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder:

“Well, I said over the last few weeks or it could be expressed as over the last couple of months. I think ‘over the last few weeks,’ as I said, is consistent with the timeline that you had up there.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“But the fact is that you – the department’s official response to Sen. Grassley as part of his investigation was that it didn’t happen until you came before the House and said that you learned about it over the last few weeks. That was May 3, 2011. Is that correct?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I’m not sure I understand that question.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Okay. Well, let me go on to something else. Do you still contend this is a local law enforcement operation?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder:

“Don’t misinterpret that. It’s a federal…”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Those are your words. You said it was a local law enforcement operation in your opening testimony.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Well, that’s my fault. It’s a federal law enforcement operation that was of local concern. It was not a national operation.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“It metastasized – didn’t it? – to Mexico. It metastasized to Texas and obviously in Arizona so it wasn’t certainly local in effect. Would you agree with that?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“As I indicated in my opening statement, the impact of the mistakes made in Fast and Furious are going to be felt in Mexico, in the United States probably for years to come.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“A lot of those guns are still have not been accounted for, correct?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Yes. A number of those guns have not been accounted for. And that’s why it is incumbent upon us – that’s why I’ve taken the steps that I’ve taken – to try to ensure that the mistakes that happen there are not repeated.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): 

“This is the organizational chart for the Department of Justice. If you would agree with me that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is an agency in the Department of Justice of which you are head.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Yes, that’s correct.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“That’s your signature right here attesting to this organization chart on April 30, 2010. So you’re not suggesting, are you General Holder, that it’s not your responsibility to have known about this operation, is it?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Well, there are 115,000 employees in the United States Department of Justice…”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“And the buck stops with you.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I have ultimate responsibility for that which happens in the department, but I cannot be expected to know details of every operation that is ongoing in the Justice Department on a day-to-day basis. I did not know about Fast and Furious, as it’s indicated in the chart that you now have up there, until it became public.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“You can not have been expected to have known about the operation known as Fast and Furious despite the fact that we know you received an NDIC memo on July 5, 2010. You received another memo on Fast and Furious on Nov. 1, 2010. And you say you cannot be expected to have known about it because of the size of your agency?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“No, there are a couple of problems with your chart – colorful though it is. The ‘AG Holder receives NDIC memo’ – incorrect. ‘AG Holder receives significant recent events memo’ – that is incorrect.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“These are memos with your name on it, addressed to you, referring to the Fast and Furious operation. Are you saying you didn’t read them?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder:

“I didn’t receive them.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“You didn’t receive them?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“What happens is that these reports are prepared – these weekly reports or whatever – they are prepared with my name on them, with the deputy attorney general’s name on them, and they are reviewed by my staff and a determination is made as to what ought to be brought to my attention. If you look at those memos, there’s nothing in any of those memos that indicates any of those inappropriate tactics that is of concern to us now were actually used. My staff made the determination that there was no reason to share content of those memos with me. So ‘AG Holder receives memo’ – incorrect, ‘AG Holder receives significant recent events memo on Fast and Furious’ – also incorrect.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Have you apologized to the family of Brian Terry?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I have not apologized to them, but I certainly regret what happened to them.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Have you even talked to them?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I have not.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Would you like to apologize today for this program that went so wrong that took the life of a United States law enforcement agent?”

 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.):

“Before you answer, that will have to be your last question to keep within time…”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I certainly regret what happened to Agent Brian Terry. I can only imagine the pain that his family has had to deal with – in particular his mother. I am a father of three children myself; we are not programmed to bury our kids. It pains me whenever there is the death of a law enforcement official, especially under the circumstances that this occurred. It is not fair, however, to assume the mistakes that happened in Fast and Furious directly led to the death of Agent Terry. Again, my feelings of sympathy and regret go out to the Terry family. And I hope the steps that we have put in place – the measures that I have called for – will prevent other federal agents, local and state agents from being the subject of this kind of violence as well as civilians, people in the United States as well as Mexico.”

 

Second Round of Questioning: 

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Mr. Holder, let me just try to tie up some loose ends. You agree that on Feb. 4 a letter that was written to Sen. Grassley that with the allegation that ATF sanctioned or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers who then transported them into Mexico is false. That letter dated Feb. 4, 2011 is itself false – we now know.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“What I said was that it contained inaccurate information.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Well, isn’t that false?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I don’t want to quibble with you but false, I think, implies that people making a decision to deceive, and that was not what was going on there. People were – in good faith – giving what they thought was correct information to Sen. Grassley. We now know that that information was not correct.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Well, if you won’t agree with me that it was false, it’s not not true – you agree with that?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I’d say it’s not accurate.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“It’s not accurate?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Mmm hmm.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Did the person who wrote this letter on Feb. 4, 2011 have they ever been disciplined or otherwise been held accountable for providing false information to a United States Senator?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Well, as I indicated, the people who wrote the letter acted in good faith – thought that what they were sending was in fact accurate information. The people who were supplying the information thought that it was accurate. At some point somebody in that chain did not have, did not give, good information, and that’s one of the things that the Inspector General, I hope, will be able to determine.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Did Lanny Breuer know better than what was represented in the Feb. 4 letter? Was he privy to either of these two memos – the July 5, 2010? You said that he was briefed April 2010. By the way, what office does Lanny Breuer hold in the Department of Justice?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“He’s the assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Why would Lanny Breuer, knowing as he did, back in April 2010 about Operation Fast and Furious allow a letter that went out on a department’s stationary Feb. 4, 2011, why would he let a letter that was false represent the position of the Department of Justice?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“First off, the briefing – the blue one ‘AG Breuer briefed’ – that was about Wide Receiver; that wasn’t about Fast and Furious.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): 

“By the way, do you know about the differences between Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“They’re different operations.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): 

“Right. So you know the factual differences of Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“There are a number of differences both I think in scope and both in terms of time. The Bush administration was the one that started wide receiver; the Obama administration is when Fast and Furious began.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): 

“Are you winging this or do you actually know?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I know this.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“You know this? Do you know that Wide Receiver was run in conjunction with the government of Mexico and the intention of the plan was to follow the weapons and neither was there the intention to follow the weapons on Fast and Furious nor did Mexico know that the United States government was allowing guns to walk into the hands of the cartels? Did you know that?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Senator, I have not tried to equate the two. I’ve not tried to equate Wide Receiver with Fast and Furious.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“I was just asking if you know the differences between the two.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Sure, and as what I know about Wide Receiver what you have said is in fact correct. There are memos that talk about gun walking that are related to Wide Receiver. But again, I’m not trying to equate the two.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): 

“When you got Sen. Grassley’s letter on Jan. 30, 2011, why didn’t you investigate?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I did. I asked people on my staff to look into the materials that are the concerns that were raised in the letter – was a Jan. 27 letter I believe and a Jan. 30 letter – the two letters that he gave me on, I think, maybe the 30th or the 31st something like that. I asked people on my staff to look into that and they did. They started asking questions within the department about the materials that was contained in Sen. Grassley’s letters.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“And that was shortly after the letter that Sen. Grassley gave you was shortly after the well-publicized murder of Brian Terry, a United States law enforcement agent?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Right. To be clear, the letters were addressed to the acting head of ATF Ken Melson. He gave them to me.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“He works for you.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“He gave them to me on Jan. 31.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“I believe that you told Sen. [Sheldon]Whitehouse that you thought your staff made the right decision in not bringing Fast and Furious’ tactic to your attention, is that correct?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“No, that’s not correct. What I said was that there was no indication in the materials that they reviewed that contained anything about the tactics that were used in Fast and Furious. And as a result, there as no need for them to bring to my attention the reports. If in fact there was in those reports indications of gun walking or something like that, I think they should have brought it to my attention. But that was not contained in the reports. And that is what Assistant Attorney General Breuer said was the mistake that he made. When he heard about gun walking, he should have brought that to my attention or to the attention of the deputy attorney general.”

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

“Can you name me one person who has been held accountable for this Fast and Furious operation? Just one in the Department of Justice?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Well, we have made a number of changes in it with regards to personnels both in the Phoenix U.S. Attorney’s Office and also at the ATF headquarters here. And I will certainly await the report that comes out of the Inspector General, and I will assure you and the American people that people will be held accountable for any mistakes that were made in connection with Fast and Furious.”

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