Congress is once again focusing on the Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice concerning a scandal that is only likely to grow in scope.
As you may recall, Congress has been trying to get to the bottom of what happened with Operation Fast & Furious, the deadly gun-walking program - weapons that ended up in the hands of drug smugglers in Mexico - that took the life of a U.S. border patrol agent.
There have been numerous hearings, but the last time Attorney General Holder appeared before Congress - on December 8th before the House Judiciary Committee - Attorney General Holder refused to take responsibility for this tragedy and even accused his critics of playing politics with this issue.
Now, a new request from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"The Department of Justice’s conduct in the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious has been nothing short of shameful," Rep. Issa said in a statement. "From its initial denials that nothing improper occurred, to efforts to silence whistleblowers who wanted to tell Congress what really happened, to its continuing refusal to discuss or share documents related to this cover-up, the Justice Department has fought tooth and nail to hide the full truth about what occurred and what senior officials knew."
The hearing is set for February 2nd and while Holder has agreed to appear, the DOJ seems to suggest this new testimony is redundant. "It is difficult to see how the American people will be well served by yet another congressional hearing on this subject . . ." Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote in a letter to Rep. Issa.
The truth is that the American people will be well served if the Attorney General comes clean, and as the nation's top law enforcement officer, takes responsibility for this debacle.
With 62 Congressman and two Senators calling for the ouster of Holder, the Attorney General should use this new opportunity to tell what he knows - to address this scandal fully and accept responsibility.
One issue that's likely to be front-and-center at this hearing in February, is a letter sent to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) - a letter that the DOJ has withdrawn because it contained false information denying accusations made by whistle-blowers about Operation Fast & Furious. According to reports, an investigation by Rep. Issa's committee has uncovered documentation that many inside the DOJ knew the letter to Congress contained false information both before it was sent and later withdrawn.
And Congress could be poised to take further action if Holder is not forthcoming this time. During December's hearing, there were suggestions that Rep. Issa may move forward with contempt of Congress proceedings against Holder if he doesn't produce relevant subpoenaed documents.
This is not the first time serious questions have been raised about how the DOJ handles information - what it chooses to release and what documents it withholds. You may recall that just a couple of months ago, the Justice Department wanted to put in place a new procedure that permitted officials to actually lie when responding to requests for sensitive documents from the public involving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). That's right, the DOJ proposed a rule that would make it okay to lie and say that a document did not exist - even if it did. Thankfully, a tremendous outcry ensued forcing the DOJ to drop the proposed measure.
This upcoming hearing on Operation Fast & Furious is likely to produce some fireworks, once again. The questioning is sure to be determined and direct, as it should. In fact, one of Holder's top assistants is already expressing concern about how the hearing will unfold.
"It is our sincere hope that the questioning during this hearing before your committee be conducted in a professional manner," Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote to Rep. Issa. "The Attorney General has demonstrated great restraint in responding to some questioning in other committees that has, at times, been disrespectful and unproductive. The American people are entitled to a more thoughtful and reasoned dialogue on these critical issues. . ."
What the American people are entitled to, quite frankly, is an Attorney General who tells the truth - the complete story about Operation Fast & Furious.
The DOJ and Attorney General Holder should worry less about the tone of the upcoming hearing and focus more on providing substantial and truthful testimony.
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