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Public Statements

Fast and Furious

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, the reason I came to the Senate floor is to give my colleagues an update on the Fast and Furious investigation that I have been conducting since last January 31.

For almost 11 months now, I have been investigating Fast and Furious, an operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, ATF. On December 2, the Justice Department finally came clean about who helped draft its February 4 letter to Congress. That was a letter I wrote that they responded to since I opened the investigation on January 31. It only took them a few days to get a letter to me that had a tremendous number of falsehoods in it.

That letter falsely denied ATF whistleblower allegations that ATF walked guns. The revelation in the December 2 documents of this year were the last straw for me. They admitted the February 4 letter had falsehoods in it. I called for Assistant Attorney General Breuer to step down, and I don't do that lightly.

Earlier documents had already shown Mr. Breuer displayed a stunning lack of judgment in failing to respond adequately when told guns had walked in Operation Wide Receiver in the years 2006-07. The December 2 document showed that Mr. Breuer was far more informed during the drafting of the February 4 letter than he admitted before the Judiciary Committee just 1 month earlier. These two issues led me to call for the resignation of Mr. Breuer, the highest ranking official in the Justice Department who knew about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver.

The December 2 documents also established a number of other key points. The first is that the Justice Department has a flawed process for responding to letters from Congress that involve whistleblowers. So any of my colleagues, any of the 99 other Senators who are writing letters to the Justice Department, understand they have a flawed process if it involved whistleblowers responding to us. I will show that to you. In the cover letter that accompanied the documents, the Justice Department wrote that, in drafting their February 4 response, which had these falsehoods in it:
Department personnel ..... relied on information provided by supervisors from the components in the best position to know the relevant facts.

They were listening to supervisors because they only listen to supervisors. That is the problem with not answering the letters in a truthful way, to me, 5 days later after I handed them to the Attorney General. I will show that in just a minute.

Clearly, the Justice Department did not rely on those in the best position to know the facts, since the letter was withdrawn on December 2 due to its inaccuracies.

I don't know how they can withdraw a letter that is in the public domain, but they just somehow withdraw the letter.

The whistleblowers were in the best position to know the facts. Frontline personnel--not supervisors--were in the best position to know the facts, not these senior bureaucrats or political appointees. Yet the Department failed to provide a credible process for whistleblowers, people who know what is happening on a day-to-day basis, and other frontline personnel to provide information without fear of retaliation.

Employees simply do not believe they are free to report misconduct because they see what happens to those who speak out. They know it is a career killer because the ATF and the Justice Department culture protects those who retaliate against whistleblowers. Yet whistleblowers in this case spoke out anyway.

In other words, these whistleblowers were speaking out,

taking a chance on their professional future in Federal Government because they knew something wasn't right about the walking of guns. So they risked their career to make sure the truth was known.

The only crime committed by whistleblowers, generally, is the crime of committing truth. But when the Office of Legislative Affairs sought information to respond to my inquiries, it didn't ask these brave whistleblowers what happened. Instead, it simply relied on self-serving denials of senior officials at ATF headquarters or the criminal division here in DC or the U.S. attorneys in Arizona.

In other words, the Department took the word of the very officials the whistleblowers alleged had mismanaged the situation in the very first place, without getting both sides of the story.

The U.S. attorney has since admitted in testimony to congressional investigators he was too strident when he first heard these accusations. He claimed he didn't know all the facts.

We can't rely on the chain of command when we have a whistleblower. By definition, whistleblowers emerge because the chain of command is broken. Whistleblowers come to Congress because they are unsuccessful in getting their supervisors to address fraud, waste, and abuse. Sometimes those supervisors attempt to cover tracks and paper over the problem. That is why we have to get the story straight from the horse's mouth. We can't let the facts be filtered through multiple layers of bureaucracy. After all, the bureaucracy is filled with the same supervisors who should have done something about the problem in the very first place before whistleblowers even come forward.

These problems are particularly prevalent in the Federal Government that is so very large it is virtually impossible for anyone to ever be held accountable for anything. So it is crucial those investigating whistleblower allegations go straight to those on the ground level with firsthand knowledge of the facts. Their goal should be to understand the underlying facts of the whistleblower allegations, not to intimidate whistleblowers into silence. Instead, inquiries all too often focus on the whistleblowers themselves and what skeletons they have in their closet. That approach is exactly what is wrong with the Federal Government and why it doesn't function as efficiently as it can. Because if more whistleblowers were listened to and wrongs were brought to the surface and transparency ruled, there would be more accountability.

The focus should be on whether the accusations are true so the problems can be corrected. Too often, however, the focus is on finding out what information the whistleblower disclosed so the agency can circle the wagons and build a defense. That needs to change. If the department is going to regain its credibility, it needs to provide straight answers, not talking points and spin.

The only way to provide straight answers is to make sure we get straight answers in the first place. That is one reason we have pushed in our investigation to be able to interview frontline personnel.

The Justice Department objected in a letter Tuesday night. In that letter, the Justice Department also objected to us talking to first- or second-level supervisors. This is exactly the sort of approach that prevents key information from getting to senior officials and to Congress and impedes Congress's constitutional responsibilities to see that the laws are faithfully executed. In other words, we don't just pass laws and say that is the end of it. We have to pass laws to make sure we are a check on the executive branch of government and that means to do the constitutional job of oversight. That means ask questions. That means we are entitled to answers--unless somebody is trying to cover up something. When they are trying to cover up something in the bureaucracy, I always tell them: If you get stonewalled, eventually the truth is going to come out. The more truth that comes out, the more egg you are going to have on your face. Mr. Breuer is one of those who has tremendous egg on his face.

Justice cites the so-called line personnel policy for refusing to provide officials for voluntary interviews. The policy is based purely on nothing but the Department's own preferences. This isn't any law or statute or even case law. The Department has frequently set aside the policy and made exceptions.

For example, line attorneys gave transcribed interviews under oath to Congress in the 1992 Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Facility investigation. As recently as October, assistant U.S. attorney Rachel Lieber, the line attorney responsible for the anthrax investigations, participated in an interview with PBS's ``Frontline.''

How can the Justice Department tell me or argue to Congress that Congress should not be allowed access to line attorneys when they give that same kind of access to the press? Those are the kinds of line personnel and individuals who have the actual answers. I kind of surmise that the reason the Justice Department will let a U.S. attorney or some FBI agents be interviewed on television is that some public affairs officer has looked at it and said: This is a good story. This is going to make us look good. But when Congress wants to interview line people, no, and we have a constitutional responsibility to do that.

I would like to suggest that the Justice Department let the public affairs people make a decision of who can talk to Congress because it might make them look a little better if they will let them talk to Congress or are they afraid we might find out something? It is irritating as heck.

In this case, had the Justice Department gone to the horse's mouth before sending an inaccurate letter to me on February 4, they would have been able to get the story straight. The memo I have here I am not going to read, but I want to hold it up.

The memo is from an ATF line agent who substantiated the claims of the first ATF whistleblowers.

I ask unanimous consent a copy be printed in the Record immediately after my remarks.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRASSLEY. It is dated February 3, 2011, the day before the Justice Department sent their letter to me. The memo was passed up his chain in response to investigators on my staff talking to him about Operation Fast and Furious. He accurately described the problems with Fast and Furious. What he said was consistent with the claims I had already heard from other whistleblowers. Information such as this is why I was skeptical days later when the Department sent its February 4 letter to me, denying the allegations. In other words, I had proof they were lying to us.

The agent wrote in the memo about being ordered by a Fast and Furious
case agent to hold back in their surveillance, so that they did not ``burn the operation.''
While watching straw purchasers hand off weapons to traffickers--violating the laws of this country but encouraged to do it by their own Justice Department--the case agent ``told all the agents to leave the immediate area.''

While a crime was being committed the agent said to the agents to leave the area immediately. The memo explicitly says:

The transaction between the suspects took place and the vehicle that took possession of the firearms eventually left the area without agents following it.

A crime is committed, U.S. agents there let them move on.

After the phone call to my staff, the ATF agent's supervisor requested that he write this memo documenting what he had told my investigators. This passed up the chain all the way to the ATF leadership. We know that because there are e-mails attaching the memo sent to senior headquarter officials. However, the Justice Department has refused to provide copies of those e-mails and will only allow them to be reviewed at Justice Department headquarters.

The Department has also refused to provide a copy of this memo. My staff had to obtain it from confidential sources.

One of the questions yet to be answered is who in the Justice Department saw the memo and when. Either way, once the Justice Department got hold of it they tried to keep it under wraps by refusing to give me a copy. They made my staff go to the Justice Department to view it, even though the entire memo simply recounts information that was already provided to my staff. It is embarrassing to the Department because it shows that the truth was easily knowable before the false denial was sent to Congress on February 4. If they had asked for firsthand documentation such as this memo when they first got my letter in January, we would not be where we are today.

The second point these documents establish is that main Justice had problems of its own. It was not all the fault of the ATF or the U.S. attorney. Mr. Breuer's deputy, Deputy Attorney General Jason Weinstein, participated in drafting a false statement. The Justice Department's February 4 letter read:

ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.

Documents show that line originated in a phone conversation, February 1, 2011, between Justice Department legislative affairs assistant director Billy Hoover from ATF and Jason Weinstein from main Justice's criminal division.

Like Assistant Attorney General Breuer, Mr. Weinstein knew that ATF had let hundreds of weapons walk in Operation Wide Receiver, which was an earlier, smaller scale case than Fast and Furious. In fact, in April 2010, he brought that fact to the attention of Mr. Breuer, his boss. April 2010 is 8 months before I got involved in this investigation. His e-mail to Mr. Breuer about Wide Receiver said:

As you'll recall from Jim's briefing, ATF let a bunch of guns walk in efforts to get upstream conspirators but only got straws, and didn't recover many guns. Some were recovered in [Mexico] after being used in crimes.

It is ironic that is how Mr. Weinstein described Wide Receiver. He was one of the officials who authorized wiretaps in Fast and Furious. Therefore, he was in a position to know that exact same description applied to Fast and Furious. Yet he allowed the myth to be perpetrated that ATF would never do such a thing. Mr. Weinstein saw the Justice Department's very first draft of the letter to Congress. In fact, as one of his Justice Department colleagues in the Deputy Attorney General's office said, ``CRM,'' which happens to be the criminal division, and OLA, which is the Office of Legislative Affairs--``CRM and OLA basically drafted it.''

Mr. Weinstein knew the letter contained a blatantly false line. Yet he did nothing to correct it and that line thus remained in every successive draft of the letter.

On December 2 this year, the Justice Department's latest spin was that its statement that ``ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons'' was ``aspirational.'' Nevertheless, that did not stop them from withdrawing the letter for inaccuracies. Perhaps the ``aspirational'' language should be saved for mission statements. Responses to specific and serious allegations ought to, in a commonsense way, stick to the facts, right? This was an oversight letter. I was not asking for some ``feel good'' fuzzy message about what ATF aspired to. I was asking for simple facts.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent had died, and at the scene of his death were two guns from Fast and Furious. So his death was connected to the ATF operation. Whistleblowers were reaching outside of the chain of command because supervisors would not listen. Instead of treating these allegations with the kind of seriousness they deserved, the Justice Department resorted to damage control.

I do not know what else my investigation is going to uncover, but we are going to pursue it until we get to the end of it because my goal is to find out who at the highest level of government, in Justice or the White House, approved this, and get them fired; make sure that the Terry family gets all of the information about the death of their son--to this point they have had hardly anything--and, No. 3, to make sure a stupid program like walking guns, Fast and Furious, et cetera, never happens again.

This week the investigation revealed that shortly after the February 4 letter, Lanny Breuer asked Mr. Weinstein to write up an analytical memo of Fast and Furious. This suggests that Mr. Breuer and his deputy Mr. Weinstein were down in the weeds on Operation Fast and Furious a lot earlier than previously admitted. Mr. Weinstein was in an excellent position to write such a memo, since Mr. Breuer has acknowledged that Mr. Weinstein was one of the individuals who approved wiretaps in the summer of 2010 as part of Operation Fast and Furious. However, we had to learn of this memo from sources not from the Justice Department but from outside of the Justice Department. The Justice Department has not provided it to us, even though it is clearly responsive to a House Oversight Government Reform Committee October 25 subpoena.

This type of maneuvering is what got the Justice Department in trouble to begin with. The Justice Department should produce this document immediately, along with all the other responsive documents.

This investigation will continue. People must be held accountable. The Justice Department must stop stonewalling today.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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