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House Gov’t Oversight & Investigations Chairman Darrell Issa on the growing Fast and Furious scandal

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
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HH: Joined now by Congressman Darrell Issa, who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations. He has been leading the charge into uncovering the details of the Fast and Furious scandal, which exploded today. Congressman Issa, welcome. What’s your reaction to the news of today?

DI: Well, Hugh, it’s a good start, but let’s understand. All along, the administration has tried to isolate the damage by picking scapegoats. And we shouldn’t focus on these individuals. They are well below the levels necessary to plan and execute a program like Fast and Furious.

HH: Now I want to ask specifically about the U.S. Attorney in Arizona, who’s name is…

DI: Burke.

HH: Yeah, Dennis Burke. He was Janet Napolitano’s chief aide when she was governor for five years, was her aide at the Homeland Security. Have you talked to, has Janet Napolitano been asked under oath yet if she knew anything about this Fast and Furious program?

DI: No, she hasn’t, and we currently have no indication that she was actively involved, although when you look at the various number of programs, including ICE agents and so on, necessary, there are people within DHS who did know.

HH: And I think when you get Dennis Burke, it’s just unimaginable to me that an aide that close, for that many years, in the position that he occupied, did not at least discuss the program with his former boss who had jurisdiction over it. Any chance of calling her to testify on this, just to get her under oath and ask her?

DI: Well, I think we’re going to follow the path there it leads. The one thing that we do know is that they’re going to continue to say Eric Holder didn’t know, and yet the evidence continues to pile up that indicates, at least anecdotally, that he should have known. He went in March, before the program began, but just as it was beginning to be rolled out, went to Mexico City and laid out in considerable detail an expanding program that was going to do these types of things, that was going to help really hunt down the guns. And so he goes to all the trouble of flying to a foreign country, making a key speech in Mexico City, and then he wants us to believe that it wasn’t until Jason Chaffetz of Utah and myself ask him in a Judiciary Committee about it, and he says yeah, I think I saw it in the newspaper two weeks earlier. And you go, wait a second, Senator Grassley was asking for details months before you say you were briefed. I’ve been on the Hill only a little over ten years, but I think I was there about ten days before I figured out that when a senior Senator starts checking things out, a lot of people get briefed, normally.

HH: How is the level of cooperation from the Obama administration with your committee, Mr. Chairman, and has it been increasingly obstructionist or increasingly cooperative?

DI: Well Hugh, it’s been pretty close to zero all along. Usually, what happens is once we go to the almost unprecedented requirement of issuing a subpoena, or it’s been written and we’re asking where to have the marshals deliver it, then we get this “oh, we’ll give you something.” And normally, you say okay, fine, we’ve gotten through this. The problem is, and this is what I think your listeners need to know, Hugh, is when we get discovery, repeatedly it looks like a black cow eating a licorice at Midnight. They redact everything. We get whole pages that say nothing, and you look and say wait a second here, this is not a Freedom of Information request, this is not somebody who says can we post it on a website. This is the only Congressional committee that is primarily formed for the purpose of oversight and investigations. And they act as though we’re only allowed to see what’s already on a website.

HH: Now Mr. Chairman, I was flying around Arizona a few weeks ago with Paul Gosar, one of your colleagues on the Hill.

DI: Oh, one of our great…now there’s a freshman that I have to tell you, I was a little worried. You know, he was a dentist and an oral surgeon. But it turns out he’s a patriot, and a hard worker.

HH: And he and I did events with Governor Brewer, and everybody in Arizona knows about this. But I still don’t feel like it’s broken through to the national news media in anywhere near the amount of detail or attention it deserves. What do you think?

DI: Well, I think what you find is that Fox has been very good on this, CBS has been pretty good from even before Fox started. But the other mainstreams, if you will, NBC, has pretty well ignored it as though it just wasn’t a big deal rather than recognizing it in many ways as closer to home and bigger than Iran Contra.

HH: Will you be calling Dennis Burke and the newly-resigned acting head of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to testify?

DI: We may call them again. We have had both of them giving us sworn testimony, and it has been helpful. In the case of the now-former U.S. Attorney, he got halfway through his deposition, had some other requirements. He was excused, and he’s returning. So that’s one where although he has left Justice, he will be expected to return for the second half of his deposition. We try, and this is just…

HH: Hold that thought, Congressman, I’ll be right back.

– – – –

HH: Congressman Issa, earlier today, you released a statement. It’s posted over at www.michellemalkin.com, in which you say about the resignations today that this is, that the Department of Justice is managing its response in a manner intended to protect its political appointees. What do you mean by that?

DI: Well, Hugh, quite frankly, Lanny Brewer and other higher-ranking political appointees clearly knew more about this program sooner, and did nothing to stop it. One of the things about Justice is they have to go before the court and get wiretap permission. They have to fund this. This isn’t done alone by a U.S. Attorney. It’s done, quite frankly, quite a bit above the two U.S. Attorney-related people that were dismissed. So in my opinion, you don’t dismiss these people or reassign them as a show of anything other than well, we no longer have confidence in them. Well, Eric Holder needs to not have confidence in some people much closer to his office in Washington.

HH: Do you have any reason to believe that anyone has yet perjured themselves in the course of your investigation?

DI: It’s too early to tell, and that, we always use the…do we believe somebody has said something that was inaccurate? Yes, that has already occurred, and we’re very concerned. But perjury is a charge that we want to make sure is air tight before we go any further. But Hugh, the real story here is a little bit like Iran Contra. Somebody thought up a silly idea, and they allowed it to go forward. And now they’re trying to say well, it wasn’t a bad idea, it was just poorly executed. No, this was a bad idea. But if you remember Iran Contra, unlike Iran Contra, they were not trying to rescue hostages. There were no freedom fighters in South America. This was a completely elective program, one in which they delivered weapons deliberately through a channel that they knew was going to end up in the hands of drug cartels. And at least two federal agents have paid with their life, plus countless Mexican citizens, many of them innocent, plus, probably some federal Mexican federal agents are dead because we were reckless.

HH: Have you any indication, yet, that civil lawsuits against those involved will be brought by the families of the agents who are dead, or other victims across the border?

DI: I don’t, yet. I must tell you that in the case of Brian Terry’s family, what they really want, and Jamie Zapata, same thing, is they want the truth, they want the whole truth, and they want to be treated as crime victims, not as people to be tolerated and told please sit around, we’ll get around to it. And in the case of Brian Terry’s family, it is very clear that people who could be charged, related to Brian Terry’s murder, have not been charged with anything close to murder, or the felonies that are related to it. And that’s unfair to the family who saw this dedicated individual struck down in the prime of life.

HH: Now I’m sure you’ve heard, Chairman Issa, that some in the 2nd Amendment community, people who value that right highly, are concerned that the whole origin of Gun Walker, and Fast and Furious, was in an attempt to establish some kind of sting against gun dealers in Arizona and the border areas. What do you say to them? And have you seen any indication of that, yet?

DI: Well, you know, I always try to say if you’re a conspiracy theorist, and you’re right, eventually you’ll be proven right. Here’s what I say to them, is that when the four southern borders increase the requirement for federally licensed gun dealers to keep extensive databases, and turn them over, and justified it based on gun traffic, much of it done at the request of the federal government, you see something that is at best taking advantage of a tragedy created by the federal government, and at worst, part of what our 2nd Amendment friends are so concerned about. So whether it was a plan in advance, or opportunistic behavior, they are beginning to database gun dealer sales at a far greater rate than ever before, and justifying it based on this gun trafficking.

HH: Now I want to conclude by looking ahead to your hearing schedule. With Iran Contra, with all of the big, political scandals of the past three decades, there’s always been a focal set of hearings, where it really comes to a head, and always been a witness, whether it’s Ollie North in Iran Contra, or perhaps in this case, Eric Holder on the question of Fast and Furious. When will those hearings actually happen? Or will they even happen, Congressman Issa?

DI: Oh, I believe that the only way they won’t happen is if this administration comes clean and shows us how the reforms are being put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But you know, our schedule is quite filled with an awful lot of things which didn’t cost lives, but cost jobs in September and October. And so what you’re going to see out of our committee is a lot of those job impediment regulations being put under a spotlight so that Americans can get working again. But this investigation will continue. We have a team that is going to stay on it until we get the kind of reforms that guarantee this won’t happen again. And yes, we want to make sure those who are really at the pinnacle of approval process are also held accountable.

HH: Will we see high profile hearings before year’s end on Fast and Furious?

DI: I believe you will. And what we’re hoping to do is to get Senator Grassley to be more than just a pain to the Democrats on the other side of the aisle. You know, I worked very well with Senator Leahy on patent reform. I’m hoping that Fast and Furious is something that he’ll realize he needs to get with Senator Grassley and help him, because this really should be a joint House-Senate investigation. But right now, most of the investigation’s going on our side, because quite frankly, the Senate is not willing to take on the President’s administration’s failures in this or any other case.

HH: And one last political question. New district lines in California bring you into Orange County, give you all of Camp Pendleton, and all the way down, I think, pretty far into South County San Diego. How do you like your new district?

DI: Well, some of it, the Orange County part, I had it ten years ago. It was taken away by Democratic gerrymandering, so to the people of Orange County, I’m back. To the people of the University of California, San Diego, and Del Mar, this is a new area, but it’s not new to my wife and myself. We’ve lived there for decades, and we look forward to having the Del Mar racetrack in our district, in addition to Camp Pendleton.

HH: Congressman Darrell Issa, thanks for making time for us on a busy news day. I appreciate it very much.

End of interview.

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