Transcript: Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Q&A with Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer on Operation Fast and Furious

Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Combating International Organized Crime: Evaluating Current Authorities, Tools, and Resources” held on Nov. 1, 2011

Transcript of  Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) Q&A with Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer on Operation Fast and Furious:

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). IMAGE SOURCE: Judiciary.Senate.gov

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“Mr. Breuer, yesterday you made a public statement saying that ATF and U.S. Attorney’s Office officials ‘repeatedly assured officials in the Criminal Division and the leadership of the Department of Justice the allegations about walking guns in Fast and Furious were not true.’ Please be more specific. Who exactly at ATF said that the gun walking allegations were untrue? And who exactly at the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that the allegations were untrue?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Sen. Grassley, as I said yesterday, of course it was my office that ultimately prosecuted the Wide Receiver case. And I want to be very clear to you, Senator, that when I learned of this in April of 2010, and I learned about it and we decided to prosecute this case from 2006 and 2007. I regret that at that point that I knowing now [what I knew then], I wish that at that time that I had said clearly to the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General that in this case Wide Receiver we had determined that in 2006 and 2007 guns had walked. I did not do that, and I regret not doing that.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Thank you for that statement. Now, who told you at ATF and the Attorney General’s office that these allegations were untrue?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Well, Senator, at the time, as I recall, we first spoke to the ATF back in April of 2010. My front office did. And based on what I understood, we had an understanding from the ATF that this practice of 2006 and 2007 that the ATF understood the seriousness of that…”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“What’s that individual’s name?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer:  

“Well, there’s clearly, as far as I know, Sen. Grassley, at the time Mr. [William] Hoover, who was the deputy, was one of the people who would have been involved in that discussion. Of course, I wasn’t there for it so I can only tell you my understanding. And then of course…”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“That’s all I want is your understanding of it.”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“That’s my understanding, Senator. Then, of course, Senator, in early this year when this matter came to light and ATF agents made the claims that they did, I recall that both the leadership of ATF and the leadership of the United States Attorney’s Offices in Arizona – those of course who were closest and handling the matter – were adamant about the fact that this was not, in fact, a condoned practice. I’m sure you would recall that as well.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“The word leadership applies then to the people that were head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the head of ATF. Even though you didn’t give me their names, that’s who you’re talking about, right?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“That’s exactly right. As I recall…”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Let me go on then.”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Yes, Senator.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“On Feb. 4, 2011, the department sent me a letter also assuring me that the allegations of gun walking were untrue. It reads, “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that had been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.” That statement is absolutely false, and you admitted as much last night that you knew by April 2010 that ATF walked guns in Operation Wide Receiver. That’s correct, yes?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Yes, Senator. What I…”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“That’s all I need to know if that’s correct. Did you review that letter before it was sent to me?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, again, I just want to be clear that, as I told you a moment ago, I regret that in April of 2010 that I did not draw the connection between Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. And moreover, I regret that even earlier this year that I didn’t draw that connection.

 

“In direct answer to your question, Senator, I cannot say for sure whether I saw a draft of the letter that was sent to you. What I can tell you, Senator, is at that time I was in Mexico dealing with the very real issues that we’re all so committed to. But I also regret, as I’ve said, that I didn’t draw that connection earlier.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“After learning of gun running in Wide Receiver, did you ever inform the Attorney General [Eric] Holder or the Deputy Attorney General about it? If so, when? If not, why not?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, I can’t be more clear. I’ve said to you and I continue to – I regret the fact that in April of 2010 I did not. At the time, I thought dealing with the leadership of ATF was sufficient and reasonable. And frankly, given the amount of work I do at the time, I thought that that was the appropriate way of dealing with it. But I could not be more clear that knowing now – that if I had known then what I know now, that I, of course, would have told the Deputy and the Attorney General.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Did you ever tell anybody else in the Justice Department leadership the same thing, and if so, who and when?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, I thought we had dealt with it by talking to the ATF leadership.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Okay. How many guns were walked in Wide Receiver?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, I can probably try to look at those. Of course, that was in 2006 and 2007. And just to be clear, if I may, Senator, that was a case that had been abandoned and languished. It was my division that decided to take a case where guns had been permitted to go to Mexico years earlier and at least make sure that the criminals who were responsible for purchasing those guns were held to account. As a result of that, Senator, we prosecuted 11 different people. I think, to answer your question, in total probably about – if my math is good – 350 or so. But Senator, I’ll have to double check that number.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“I think you’re very close so you don’t have to check that number. According to my information, just five straw buyers – and I’ll refer to the chart here and then I’ll let you go on to another member. I’ll do some more in the second round. According to my information, just five of the straw buyers in Fast and Furious were allowed to buy nearly 1,000 weapons. When did you first know that guns were walked in Fast and Furious?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, I found out first when the public disclosures made by the ATF agents early this year. When they started making those public statements, of course, at the point as you know, both the leadership of ATF and the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Offices adamantly said that those allegations were wrong. But as those allegations became clear, that’s when I first learned that guns that ATF had both the ability to interdict and the legal authority to interdict that they failed to do so. That’s when I first learned of that, Senator.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Thank you, Mr. Breuer.”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Thank you, sir.”

 

Second Round of Questioning: 

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Mr. Breuer, I think this will be my last round of questioning. Were you aware at the time that Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious in March of 2010?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, I don’t believe that I was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious. And Senator, I do not believe that I was aware of that briefing.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Okay. In December 2009, Director [Kenneth] Melson asked you to assign a prosecutor to the case from headquarters, and in March 2010 a prosecutor from the Gang Unit was assigned to Fast and Furious. Why did the number two official in the Justice Department get a briefing around the same time headquarters assigned a prosecutor for Fast and Furious?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, I can’t answer that. What I can say to you is from the very beginning of my tenure as the assistant attorney general, I became very committed to doing everything we could to fighting the drug cartels and to doing what we can to stop what they’re doing. It was in that vein that I offered the southwest borders whatever help we in the Criminal Division could bring. And that’s how very the issues you’re raising came about. But I cannot tell you anything about the briefing because I simply did not participate in it.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Okay. You said that when you first learned about gun walking in Wide Receiver, you instructed one of your deputies to schedule a meeting with ATF Acting Director to “bring these issues to their attention.” When you first learned about gun walking in Fast and Furious, did you do the same thing? If not, why not?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“I did not, Senator, and that’s what I regret.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Was the deputy who you assigned to meet with the ATF, Jason Weinstein, also responsible for authorizing any of the applications to the court for wiretaps in Fast and Furious?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, the answer is he and other deputies in my office, including the longest serving deputy in the United States’ history who has served for almost 60 years, did. If I may, Senator, for a moment, I would like to explain what that role is, if you’d permit me.

“The Congress made clear in law that wiretaps on telephones are an extraordinarily intrusive technique. They’re a technique that I support fully and that I think are essential in fighting organized crime and transnational organized crime. They’re why, Senator, in my two-and-a-half years, I’ve over tripled the number of reviewers who do it. But as Congress made clear, the role of the reviewers and the role of the deputy in reviewing Title 3 applications, there’s only one – it is to ensure that there is legal sufficiency to make an application to go up on a wire and legal sufficiency to petition a federal judge somewhere in the United States that we believe that it’s a credible request. But we cannot – those now 22 lawyers that I have who review this in Washington and there used to be only seven – cannot and should not replace their judgement – nor can they – with the thousands of prosecutors and agents all over the country. Theirs is a legal analysis – is there a sufficient basis to make this request? We must and have to rely on the prosecutors and their supervisors and the agents and their supervisors all over the country to determine that the tactics that are used are appropriate.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Thank you for that explanation. You said in your statement last night that you “did not draw a connection” between gun walking and Wide Receiver and gun walking and Fast and Furious. You also said that you regret your failure to “alert others within the department leadership” of similarities. What finally made the light bulb go on for you that the two cases had similar problems?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, thank you for that question. I mean, I hope you know, Senator, that I’ve tried – and my division tried – as comprehensively as we can to deal with the plight of Mexico.

“I’m proud to say, Senator, that it’s my division that is prosecuting the thugs and criminals who killed the three U.S. Consulate officials in Juarez.

“It’s my division that is responsible for the investigation right now of the murderers of ICE Agent [Jaime] Zapata and the shooting of [Victor] Avilas.

“It’s my division, working with law enforcement, that has brought 104 Mexican criminals, cartel leaders and the like, including Benjamin Arellano Felix, to justice this year into the United States.

“So everyday whether it’s an organized crime or a white collar crime or cyber crime we’re working, there’s absolutely no question, Senator, that as I was involved in this exercise and as all of this has come to light, that I – in thinking about it – realized that I should have back in April of 2010 drawn that connection. I’ve expressed that regret first personally to the Attorney General of the United States. And then I determined that I should do it publicly as well.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“I have just three short questions, Mr. Chairman. When did you finally alert others within the department leadership about the similarities that I just described? And who did you alert?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, I can’t anymore recall because of course by the time that the connection was drawn with me…”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“That’s okay. How did you first hear about Fast and Furious?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer:  

“Well, I first heard about the tactics about guns being permitted to go to Mexico – when ATF had both the legal authority to interdict them and the ability to interdict them – I first heard of those allegations with the ATF agents went public.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Okay. And then when and how did you first learn about the connection between Fast and Furious and U.S. Border Patrol Brian Terry’s murder?”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Senator, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder is an absolute horrible tragedy as other the tragedies of the other people who – law enforcement and others – have been killed. The only way that I learned about any connection there was when it became public.

“But of course as you know Senator with respect to many of these tragedies, my division has done everything we can to hold the people liable. When CBP Agent [Robert] Rosas will killed, I worked personally, tirelessly to bring his murderer to the United States. I attended the funeral; I spent time with his family. And that’s why we’re working tirelessly to hold murderers of Agent Zapata accountable and the murderers of the consulate officials accountable.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Mr. Chairman, I have a request of you. I released a report that I’d like to ask to be made a part of the record. It refutes the number referenced earlier that 70% of the guns from Mexico came from the U.S. The answer isn’t to clamp down on law-abiding citizens or gun dealers. Would you include that in the record?”

 

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.): 

“Without objection, the report will be included in the record.”

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Mr. Breuer, for your comments.”

 

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 

“Thank you, Senator.”

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2 Comments on “Transcript: Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Q&A with Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer on Operation Fast and Furious

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