The chairman of the House Oversight Committee says that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is not cooperating with his committee’s probe of the controversial Project Gunrunner and said he’ll be forced to begin contempt proceedings unless that changes soon.The Justice Department has asserted that disclosing certain documents would compromise several ongoing federal prosecutions that came out of Project Gunrunner, an effort aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. weapons into Mexico.
But in a letter to the director ATF, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) wrote that DOJ’s “internal policy to withhold documents from what it labels pending criminal investigations may not deprive Congress from obtaining those same documents if they are pertinent to a congressional investigation – particularly in a matter involving allegations that reckless and inappropriate decisions by top Justice Department officials may have contributed to the deaths of both U.S. and Mexican citizens.”
A “blanket prohibition” on disclosing the Project Gunrunner documents would “conceal the entirety of Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious from legitimate congressional scrutiny,” Issa wrote in the letter.
Issa said they’re “not conducting a concurrent investigation with the Department of Justice, but rather an independent investigation of the Department of Justice – specifically, of allegations that the reckless and inappropriate decisions of Department officials have created a serious public safety hazard.”
He said that Congress is legally entitled to all of the documents and that efforts by the Justice Department and ATF to “stonewall the Committee in its investigation by erroneously, but matter-of-factly, citing an internal department policy as a preventative measure for denying access to documents have only enhanced suspicions that such officials have played a role in reckless decisions that have put lives at risk.”
“While I am certainly sensitive to protecting the integrity of pending criminal investigations, the Department has not provided information to substantiate its claims or produced other documents unrelated to specific cases,” Issa wrote.
Late update: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, issued this statement:
Our Committee has a responsibility to investigate allegations of waste, fraud and abuse. However, despite my repeated requests, Chairman Issa has refused to meet with the Department of Justice to ensure that his actions do not compromise ongoing investigations and prosecutions, including a trial of 20 individuals that is scheduled to begin in June.
Democrats on the Oversight Committee said Issa has issued the letter including 11 attachments that “disclose information related to at least three ongoing criminal investigations.” They said Issa “took this action despite pleas from DOJ to consider the potential ramifications of his subpoena and the release of sensitive law enforcement documents on the Department’s prosecutions.”
Read our full Project Gunrunner coverage here.
Correction: Issa’s letter was directed to the director of ATF, not DOJ’s congressional liaison as originally stated.