By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — One at a time, Rep. Darrell Issa held up a thick wiretap application form and slammed it on his dais in the elaborate House Judiciary Committee hearing room. Each time the Vista, Calif., Republican angrily read out loud the dates: May 15, 2010, April 19, 2010, May 7, 2010, May 17, 2010, June 2, 2010, and July 2, 2010. All of them, he said, “before Brian Terry was gunned down.”
The packages were proof, Issa contended, that the Department of Justice in Washington and perhaps the Obama White House were aware of the flawed tactics in the ATF’s Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation in Arizona that allowed more than 2,000 firearms to “walk” into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
A month before the operation was stopped, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Terry was killed in a December 2010 shootout and two Fast and Furious weapons were discovered at the crime scene between the Mexican border and Tucson. Scores of more weapons have been found at violent crimes in Mexico.
Issa contends the wiretap documents, signed by top Justice officials in support of Fast and Furious, are proof that administration officials knew the tactics were flawed and should have stopped the operation long before the agent and others were killed. “The tactics of Fast and Furious were known,” he said. “They were known and are contained in these wiretaps.”
Issa said he obtained the materials from “a furious group of whistle-blowers” who are angry with the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for not providing more material to Issa’s investigation into Fast and Furious. The whistle-blowers, he told Holder at the hearing, “are tired of your stonewalling.”
Holder, under fire for more than a year now in the Fast and Furious case, said he had read the documents but told Issa, “I disagree with the conclusion you’ve just reached.”
Rather, he said, the documents are summaries prepared for asking a federal judge to allow wiretaps of illegal gun purchases in Arizona, and Justice officials in Washington reviewed them only “to make sure that there is a basis to go into court and to ask the court to grant the wiretap.”
Holder and other Justice officials indicated that the documents do not disclose the improper tactics in which agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona allowed illegal purchases of assault rifles and other weapons in the hopes they could track them to Mexican drug cartel leaders. Instead, agents lost track of most of the firearms.
Exactly what the wiretap applications say, however, remains unclear. They have not been made public.