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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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Joining us now, a member of Congressman Issa's House Oversight Committee, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

The five individuals this report claims are primarily responsible for the failures of "Fast and Furious." Was it more their actions and choices that led to the failures of the program, or a larger systematic problem within the ATF and the Department of Justice.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I think it's a larger, more systemic problem because part of what the report cites is the lack of communication between ATF, the DEA, the FBI and certainly the Department of Justice and also Homeland Security, because ICE was also heavily involved in this. So -- what we're doing is, this is the report, first report out of three. We're also looking at the Department of justice and how they acted and then certainly the cover- up that after we got this bogus letter of February 4, 2011 from the Department of Justice. So --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: The -- yes. But investigators are saying right now the investigation in this report is based on what they say this is the best information available as of now. Do you anticipate you'll ever know the full details of this operation?

CHAFFETZ: Well, remember, that the House held Attorney General Holder, the Department of Justice, in contempt. It wasn't about him personally.

It was the fact that there were 140,000 documents. We've received less than 7,000 of those documents. So we're here to not only investigate what happened in this botched plan but also to make sure that it never, ever happens again. And that's what we're trying to get to the bottom of, Anderson. That's why we issued this report.

COOPER: I want to read what the Justice Department said. They responded earlier this afternoon through their spokesperson, saying the report finally acknowledges what Attorney General Eric Holder has been saying, that flaws in the operations had their origins in the field in Arizona and occurred in part due to weak oversight by ATF leadership.

They went on to say that the report, and I quote, "Reiterates many of the distortions and now debunked conspiracy theories that Representative Issa has been advancing for year and a half including the fiction that the flawed tactics used in "Fast and Furious" were somehow the brainchild of the current administration as opposed to the reality that the pattern of flawed tactics dates back to 2006 and the prior administration."

Your response?

CHAFFETZ: Well, just because the Bush administration did it and did it poorly doesn't mean they have an excuse to continue to do it. That's part of our point here is, look, we've always wanted to get to the bottom of this no matter where it leads. Since -- so I think Chairman Issa has been doing a fabulous job in putting this together it. The department of justice, though, their fingerprints s are on this.

I mean one of the things that brother me personally is you have the acting director of the ATF, Kenneth Melson, in almost 2 1/2 years that he was there, he met with his boss, the attorney general, Attorney General Holder, one time. And so you look at this lack of leadership, this coordination, and it's above and beyond. Certainly there were flaws within the ATF. But you've got to look also at the Department of Justice and the interagency interactions or the lack of interaction that led to this flawed program.

COOPER: It is confusing, though, because in "Fortune" magazine last month, they reported that there was no top-down system wide directive to allow guns to walk across the border. That There was a dysfunctional work relationship at the ATF Arizona office and that Agent Dodson, the main whistle-blower in all this, is the only person who allowed guns to walk. How does that square with your understanding of what happened, the facts included in the report?

CHAFFETZ: No, listen, thank goodness that we had good front line people at the ATF actually be whistle-blowers and bring this all to our attention.

And what really created even more of a firestorm is when in February 4, 2011, the Department of Justice sent Congress, to specifically Senator Grassley, a letter denying that any of this is happening. And we knew because 10 months later they came back and had to deny that. And that's in part why you had this firestorm.

So there are a lot of dirty hands in this and it goes above and beyond just the ATF. But there's some fundamentally flawed actions here. But you can't ignore the senior people at the Department of Justice. People that were signing off, for instance, on wiretaps and other types of things. They clearly had to know or should have known that this was happening.

COOPER: Your report does, though, seem to support at least part of that fortune article. That the ATF felt hamstrung by prosecutors in Arizona in efforts to see criminal charges for illegal gun sales.

CHAFFETZ: Hey, look everybody wanted to go get the drug cartels. The problem is, they put this ridiculous plan together. Something was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. I mean just look at it on the surface. We knowingly gave the drug cartels nearly 2,000 weapons. Mostly AK-47s. And there didn't seem to be an adult in the room that said, do we really do that? Maybe this is a bad idea.

And it's just stunning that this is continued to allow to go on for so long with so many weapons, Anderson, that's what's so concerning.

COOPER: Yes. Representative, I appreciate you being on. Thank you so much.

CHAFFETZ: Hey, thanks, Anderson.

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