Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa said Sunday that he has no evidence the White House was involved in what could be a Justice Department “cover-up” to contain fallout from the botched “Fast and Furious” operation.
In a series of interviews on Sunday television shows, the California Republican repeatedly accused Justice Department officials of lying to Congress about the gun-trafficking sting operation and withholding documents from congressional investigators.
But Issa acknowledged that his committee has seen no evidence the White House was involved.
“And I hope that they don’t get involved,” Issa said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I hope that this stays at Justice, and I hope that Justice cooperates because, ultimately, Justice lied to the American people on Feb. 4, and they didn’t make it right for 10 months.”
Issa’s committee voted last week to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, sending the matter to the full House for a vote expected this week. The vote quickly escalated the standoff with the administration over documents related to the now-defunct program in which agents allowed guns to be moved across the border with the hope of tracking them to Mexican cartels. Many weapons were lost and two were found at the scene in the killing of a U.S. border agent.
Republicans in Congress contend that the Justice Department has withheld documents that reveal how top officials responded to early inquiries about U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s death.
President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege on Thursday to withhold the documents, saying they are related to internal and confidential deliberations. The White House cast Issa’s investigation as an election-year political witch hunt.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Issa called the administration’s claim of privilege “over-broad or simply wrong.” The committee is preparing a response to the administration in a letter that he said would probably be sent Sunday or Monday.
“When we get lied to, when the American people get lied to, there can’t be oversight if there’s lying,” Issa said, noting that the Supreme Court has ruled “there cannot be executive privilege over criminal cover up or cover up of crime.” He continued, “Lying to Congress is a crime. We have every right to see documents to say: Did you know, when did you know, what did you know, including even the president.”
But Issa also said it is not too late for Holder to avoid a House vote.
The chairman offered to reopen negotiations with the Justice Department if the administration would turn over to his committee documents it previously offered. The administration had been in talks with the Republican-led House committee, which for months has been investigating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation.
“If those documents say what Eric Holder says they say, we might in fact dismiss contempt,” Issa said. “If we get documents that do show, cast some doubt or allow us to understand this, we’ll at least delay contempt and delay the process. We only broke off negotiations when we got a flat refusal to give us information needed for our investigation.”