Transcript: Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Mike Lee’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. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) Q&A:

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. IMAGE SOURCE: Judiciary.Senate.gov

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah):

“You’ve acknowledged today that mistakes were made basically within the Department of Justice related to the Fast and Furious program but without specifying who made those mistakes. I’d be curious what mistakes have you made that you can identify – things you wish you could have done differently – any mistakes that you personally have made?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder:

“Well, I think that as I look at the information as they were brought to me I think that I acted in a responsible way by ordering the Inspector General investigation, by issuing the directive to the field. We have an Inspector General report that will look at this matter. I think we will glean from that report a better sense of what people did, who should be held accountable. I want to make clear on the basis of that report and any other information that is brought to my attention those people who did make mistakes will be held accountable.”

 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah):

“You’ve reiterated several times that people within the Department of Justice believed that the initial statements denying knowledge of Fast and Furious were accurate. They believed they were accurate.  Obviously these were some people and not all people, right? Clearly, some people knew.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder:

“Exactly.”

 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah):

“What can be done then to bridge this gap in the future to make sure that this ‘some’ communicate with the others, particularly those at the top.”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“One of the things I hope will be that, as a result of the directive that I issued with regard to this whole question of gun walking, that people understand that is simply not acceptable. The Inspector General report – I think you make a good point – I think will ultimately answer a question that I don’t know the answer to right now: Who actually thought this was a good thing to do? Why didn’t people discover sooner that they did – that in fact what we thought was occurring in fact was not? I think that will be the result of the IG report, the Inspector General report.”

 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah):

“You know, I’ve been curious about some statements made recently by Lanny Breuer, the head of the criminal division, that are at once indicative of a broader concern and also I think in some ways likely to implicate some questions related to Fast and Furious.

“Mr. Breuer has stated that although he and/or his top deputies approved several ATF wiretap applications for Operation Fast and Furious as is required under federal law – consistent with Title 18 of U.S. Code section 2518 – Main justice has only one role in reviewing the sufficiency of wiretap applications ‘to ensure that there is legal sufficiency to make an application to interrupt communications that is to ensure that the government’s petition to the federal judge’ is in his words a ‘credible’ request.

“He went on to explain that it’s the responsibility of the district offices carrying out the investigation ‘to determine that the tactics that are used used are appropriate and that Main Justice has to rely on those prosecutors in the field and not to second guess them.’

“I find this interesting in the sense that here the requirement outlined in Section 2518 of Title 18 requires an analysis at the Department of Justice level. It requires an analysis of you, or of your deputy, or of the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, or one of those officials essentially. And one of the things that they have to do there is rather than simply regurgitate back out the same facts and says, ‘Well, it looks like they cite the right statute.’ They have to undertake an assessment as to such issues as have other investigative tactics proven inadequate? And if so, why is a wiretap – which is a pretty extraordinary remedy, it’s an invasive investigative tool – and that’s why Congress is understandably require that the Department of Justice at the top levels approve these.

“So if he in fact approved multiple wiretap applications, then one of two things I think is happening: he’s either not complying with that duty to assess each one independently to make sure that there was this representation made that the department establish the case for wiretap applications. Or on the other hand, he was doing his job and was therefore made aware of what was going on with Operation Fast and Furious but didn’t disclose that. Or when he saw the initial denials by the department about Fast and Furious, he failed to raise the flag that said, ‘Hey this is a concern.’ So which is it?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder:

“Well first, Lanny Breuer would not have approved – personally approved – these requests, wiretap requests.”

 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah):

“Would it have been one of his deputies?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Yes. One of the deputy assistant attorneys general.”

 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah):

“Who would report directly to him?”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Report directly to him, but my guess would be given the volume of these things, the conversations about those kinds of things, it probably does not exist. The only one that the assistant attorneys general is required to approve personally is if it’s for a roving wiretap. There were no roving wiretaps in connection with Fast and Furious.”

 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah):

“Given that they report directly to him, wouldn’t they be in a position once they saw that the Department of Justice and its good name were on the line to have said, ‘Hey, Department of Justice did in fact know about this program. In fact, we have approved a significant series of wiretap applications on this point?'”

 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I don’t think the wiretap applications – I’ve not seen them, I’ve not seen them. But I don’t know, I don’t have any information that indicates that those wiretap applications had anything in them that talked about the tactics that have made this such a bone of contention and have legitimately raised the concern from members of Congress as well as those of us in the Justice Department. I’d be surprised if the tactics themselves about gun walking were actually contained in those applications. I’ve not seen them, but I would be surprised if that were the case.”

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