Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer to resign or be fired today on the Senate floor, the latest development in the fallout over the Operation Fast and Furious gun-trafficking case.
“I’ve done oversight for many years, and in all that time, I don’t ever remember coming across a government official who so blatantly placed sparing agencies embarrassment over protecting the lives of citizens,” Grassley said.
Documents released last week show Breuer’s office played a key role in the drafting of a Feb. 4 letter to Grassley that Attorney General Eric Holder has since admitted contained false information about Fast and Furious.
In the letter, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich broadly denied that ATF officials had allowed assault weapons to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels. “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico,” Weich wrote.
Breuer conceded on Oct. 31 that he knew federal officials allowed guns to fall into the possession of Mexican drug cartels 10 months before the department denied in February that such an investigative strategy was used.
“This was a shocking revelation,” Grassley said today. “The controversy about gun walking in Fast and Furious had been escalating steadily for 10 months. The Justice Department had publicly denied to Congress that ATF would ever walk guns. Yet, the head of the Criminal Division, Mr. Breuer, knew otherwise and said nothing.”
Breuer’s knowledge of the tactic stemmed from Operation Wide Receiver, a similar, smaller-scale weapons-smuggling investigation that began during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement that Breuer has “acknowledged his mistake in not making — and therefore not alerting Department leadership to — a connection between the allegations made about” Fast and Furious and the “unacceptable tactics used years earlier” in Wide Receiver. Schmaler added that Holder “continues to have confidence” in Breuer’s “ability to lead the Criminal Division.”
Breuer said in October that it was a “mistake” not to alert higher-ranking officials when the information about gun walking in Fast and Furious “became public,” given his knowledge about Wide Receiver.
Emails show Breuer received versions of the Feb. 4 letter on four occasions via email. Breuer forwarded the emails to a personal account but told Congressional investigators in a written statement last week that he “cannot say for sure” whether he viewed the drafts.
He also asked Jason Weinstein, his deputy, to “let me know what’s happening with this” in a Feb. 1 email asking for an update, among other interactions on the topic.
Grassley questioned whether Breuer’s claim to not remember whether he read the letters was credible.
“It just isn’t credible that someone like Mr. Breuer would forget about his involvement in a matter like this,” he said.