The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.
Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:
CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.
On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”
Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.
On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”
Holder was skeptical of any assurances.
“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.
In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?
A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.
Not to nitpick, but AP writes that “Republicans have promoted the idea” that top DOJ officials knew about the gun-walking. That’s framed rather unfairly — this wasn’t some baseless idea pulled out of thin air by the GOP; emails we’ve already seen showed Holder’s top aides discussing F&F as early as December 2010. Holder himself claimed he’d heard about the gun-running a “few weeks” before his May 2011 hearing with Congress, but was forced to reverse himself later, after it became clear he must have known before that.
The latest letters Holder showed members of Congress seem to show he knew about the operation in February 2011, but where is the evidence that he’d just found about it at that point? Just because he allegedly sent out emails ordering an investigation and questioning others about the gunwalking, that hardly seems like proof he wasn’t aware of this earlier.
Plus — if he was so involved in the issue that he’d sent out field directives and vowed to “get to the bottom” of the case in February, then why was he so fuzzy on the timeline during questioning in May? Clearly, he had to have recalled that he knew about this for longer than “a few weeks.”
As I wrote, we already knew his office was aware of the gun-walking months before these emails were sent. If Holder wasn’t informed properly, then why haven’t heads rolled on this? And if the full electronic mail trail really shows Holder had no idea about F&F, why doesn’t the administration just let investigators take a look? Three vague emails we can’t even see tell us nothing, and they actually only make Holder’s defense seem weaker.