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Congress subpoenas 'Fast and Furious' documents

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Thu October 13, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Congress issues a subpoena relating to Operation Fast and Furious
  • Rep. Issa says Attorney Genreal Holder has blocked an investigation into the operation
  • Justice Department officials insist they did nothing wrong
  • Fast and Furious is a discredited gunrunning operation designed to track weapons to drug cartels

Washington (CNN) -- Congressional investigators issued a subpoena Wednesday for communications from several top Justice Department officials -- including Attorney General Eric Holder -- relating to the discredited "Fast and Furious" federal gunrunning operation.

The subpoena, issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also covers communications from Holder's chief of staff, Gary Grindler, and from Lanny Breuer, head of the department's criminal division.

Among other things, the subpoena includes a request for information regarding relevant Justice Department communications with the White House, as well as details about the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent last December, the source added.

"Top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Holder, know more about Operation Fast and Furious than they have publicly acknowledged," said Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"The documents this subpoena demands will provide answers to questions that Justice officials have tried to avoid since this investigation began eight months ago. It's time we know the whole truth."

Holder has promised to comply with any Capitol Hill subpoena, though a Justice Department spokeswoman appeared to dismiss the development as a political exercise.

"We've made clear from the beginning that the department intends to work with the committee to answer legitimate questions," Tracy Schmaler said. "However, this subpoena shows that Chairman Issa is more interested in generating headlines than in real oversight important to the American people."

Operation Fast and Furious involved agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowing illegal sales of guns, believed to be destined for Mexican drug cartels, to "walk" from Phoenix gun stores into Mexico.

The idea was to track the sellers and purchasers of guns to Mexican cartels. But the program became mired in controversy after weapons found at Mexican and American murder scenes were traced back to the program. Mexican officials and critics in the United States called the operation a failure, saying it exacerbated the longstanding problem of U.S. weapons getting into the hands of the violent Mexican cartels.

A GOP-led congressional investigation into the matter has become politically contentious, with administration and Capitol Hill leaders accusing each other of acting irresponsibly.

In a letter to Holder released Monday, Issa, a California congressman, accused the attorney general of actively obstructing Congress' oversight function and damaging his own credibility as a top national law enforcement officer.

"Numerous statements" made by Holder about Operation Fast and Furious have "been proven to be untrue," Issa said.

"The time for deflecting blame and obstructing our investigation is over," Issa wrote in the letter, which was dated Sunday. "The time has come for you to come clean to the American public about what you knew about Fast and Furious, when you knew it, and who is going to be held accountable for failing to shut down a program that has already had deadly consequences, and will likely cause more casualties for years to come."

Issa blasted Holder for "negligence and incompetence" on the issue, and for offering a "roving set of ever-changing explanations" designed primarily to "circle the wagons around (the Justice Department) and its political appointees."

The operation was the Justice Department's "most significant gun trafficking case," Issa said. "On your watch, it went spectacularly wrong. Whether you realize yet or not, you own Fast and Furious. It is your responsibility."

Holder testified before the Judiciary Committee in May that he had known about the Fast and Furious program for just a few weeks. Republicans insist that recently released Justice Department documents show the attorney general actually knew about the program much earlier.

Holder and his aides continue to vehemently deny that charge.

The attorney general responded angrily Friday to GOP critics of his handling of the operation, charging them with using "irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric."

"I simply cannot sit idly by as a (Republican) member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered 'accessories to murder,'" Holder said in a letter to members of Congress.

Such rhetoric, Holder declared, "must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms."

On Sunday, Issa said the Judiciary Committee has invited Holder to "come and clear the record."

"Clearly, he knew when he said he didn't know," Issa said. "Now the question is, what did he know and how is he going to explain why he gave that answer?"

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Brian Todd, and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report

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