Committee Releases Fast & Furious Report: Obstruction of Congress by the Department of Justice

Published: Jun 7, 2017

Documents obtained after years of litigation reveal the full depth of DOJ’s obstructionist tactics

Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) released a 250-plus page report chronicling the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) response under Attorney General Eric Holder to the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.

The report highlights key documents and communications won during the course of federal litigation which detail DOJ’s stonewalling of both Congress and the family of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. 

Key takeaways from the report:

  • DOJ viewed the Terry family as a public relations nuisance and failed to provide the family with answers regarding Brian’s murderDespite promises from Arizona-based DOJ officials and senior DOJ officials in Washington, D.C., documents show the Department did not make a genuine effort to keep the Terry family informed or involved in the investigation and prosecution of their son’s murder.
    • Page 76“It is what we will have to expect from this woman (sic) and Terry’s brother for the rest of the case.” – Assistant U.S. Attorney John Evans in response to a news clipping where Brian Terry’s stepmother pleads for answers.
    • Page 214“USAO had . . . provided them with all information they are entitled to regarding the case . . . the Terry family is not a victim as defined by the CVRA [Crime Victims Rights Act].” – First Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Scheel in an email to Faith Burton, Special Counsel, DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs.
  • The Justice Department’s internal probe was largely a sham, and it prioritized politics and spin over public safety. The Department’s efforts focused on managing the day-to-day media cycle and protecting its senior political appointees rather than thoroughly investigating allegations of misconduct raised by whistleblowers. Documents show senior officials at Main Justice conducted just a cursory inquiry and accepted information received from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona at face value, despite these being the very offices responsible for the wrongdoing.
    • Page 82“Based on my conversation yesterday with the AUSA and Crim Chief, and based on prior conversations with Dennis Burke and with the ATF SAC, this investigation was conducted – and the decisions about when to seize guns were made – thoughtfully, carefully, and strategically” – Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein to a group of senior Justice Department officials on February 26, 2011, describing the extraordinarily limited scope of the Department’s internal investigation at that point.

Further, documents show Attorney General Holder managed key aspects of the Department’s responses to Congress and to media inquiries rather than focusing on managing DOJ’s law enforcement components. There are no documents to demonstrate the Attorney General ever devised a strategy to track down the more than 2,000 firearms lost along the Southwest border. Nor are there any documents to demonstrate the Attorney General coordinated assistance for the Terry family. Instead, documents show Attorney General Holder absorbed in only the political implications of the various milestone events throughout 2011. 

    • Page 201“The AG wants both of you to stick around after the [daily staff meeting] each day to discuss the status of the ATF matter.” – Chief of Staff Gary Grindler email to Associate Deputy Attorney General Steve Reich and DOJ Office of Public Affairs Deputy Director Tracy Schmaler.
    • Page 205“Hit back HARD” – Attorney General Holder in response to The Washington Post’s coverage.
    • Page 225“I don’t want to jinx it but it really is astounding that the plan worked – so far.” – Deputy Attorney General James Cole in an email to Attorney General Holder
    • Page 237“‘Holder briefed’!!!??? Scream at her.” – Attorney General Holder to Tracy Schmaler in response to coverage by CBS News.
  • DOJ demonstrated a complete disregard for proper congressional oversight. The documents reveal senior Justice Department officials, including the Attorney General, as having a disdain for the congressional oversight function. With support and direction from senior leaders, staff in DOJ’s Office of Legislative Affairs consistently deployed tactics to delay and withhold information from Congress. 
    • Page 116“Much more likely it’s the reverse: we’ll provide only some and withhold a substantial number, and they concern not just the murder investigation but also the longstanding Fast and Furious investigation.” – DOJ Office of Legal Counsel Special Counsel Paul Colborn in an email discussing how DOJ would respond to requests from Congress. 
    • Page 117“I am also reluctant to empower Grassley’s attempt as RMM [Ranking Minority Member] to conduct oversight by organizing a briefing.” – Paul Colborn email to DOJ colleagues.
    • Page 167“But there are important reasons for not giving Grassley everything he is asking for: it would embolden him in future fights and would ‘use up’ a lot of the material that we will eventually need to release to Issa . . . as the oversight struggle continues.” – Office of Legislative Affairs Assistant Attorney General Ron Welch in an email to DOJ colleagues.

 

Background:

  • The House Oversight Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee released four reports regarding Operation Fast and Furious in June 2011July 2011July 2012, and October 2012.
  • In June 2012, the Oversight Committee recommended the House of Representatives hold Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt of Congress for failing to comply with Congressional subpoenas.
  • In January 2016, a U.S. District Judge ordered DOJ to produce previously withheld Fast and Furious documents to the Committee; these documents showed the lengths to which senior Department officials went to keep information from Congress.