Grassley Calls for Resignation of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer
***Supporting documents can be found here.***
Prepared Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Holding People Accountable for Gunwalking
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I have been investigating ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious for almost 11 months now.
It is past time for accountability at the senior levels of the Justice Department.
That accountability needs to start with the head of the Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer.
I believe it is time for him to go, and I’d like to explain why I have come to that conclusion.
The Justice Department denied in a letter to me on February 4, 2011 that ATF had ever walked guns.
Mr. Breuer had been consulted in the drafting of that erroneous letter.
On May 2, 2011, rather than acknowledging the increasingly obvious facts and apologizing for its February letter, the Justice Department reiterated its denial. Thus, when the Justice Department revealed on October 31 of this year that Breuer had known as far back as April 2010 about gunwalking at ATF, I was astounded.
This was a shocking revelation.
The controversy about gunwalking 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.
He knew that the same Field Division was responsible for walking guns in a 2006-2007 case called Wide Receiver. But the real shock was how Mr. Breuer had responded within his own Department when that earlier gunwalking was first brought to his attention in April 2010.
He didn’t tell the Attorney General.
He didn’t tell the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff.
He didn’t tell the Deputy Attorney General.
He didn’t tell the Inspector General.
Instead, he simply told his deputy to meet with ATF leadership and inform them of the gunwalking “so they know the bad stuff that could come out.”
Later, his deputy outlined a strategy to “announce the case without highlighting the negative part of the story and risking embarrassing ATF.”
For 18 months, the embarrassing truth about ATF gunwalking in Wide Receiver and Breuer’s knowledge of it was successfully hidden.
It only came out because of the Congressional investigation into gunwalking in Fast and Furious.
The public outrage over Fast and Furious comes from average Americans who cannot understand why their own government would intentionally allow criminals to illegally buy weapons for trafficking to Mexico.
Next week, it will be one year since Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered by bandits armed with guns as a direct result of this policy of letting guns walk.
The Terry family and all Americans who sympathize with their loss are rightfully outraged and astonished that our own government would do such a thing.
Yet when Mr. Breuer learned of a case where ATF walked guns in a very similar way, all he did was give ATF a “heads up.”
There seems to be a vast gulf between what outrages the American people and what outrages Lanny Breuer. Mr. Breuer showed a complete lack of judgment by failing to object to the gunwalking that he knew about in April 2010.
If Mr. Breuer had reacted to gunwalking in Wide Receiver the way most Americans reacted to gunwalking in Fast and Furious, he would have taken steps to stop it and hold accountable everyone involved.
Fast and Furious might have been stopped in its tracks.
When Mr. Breuer came before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism the day after those revelations, I gave him a chance to explain himself.
I listened to what he had to say.
He told us that he “thought that … dealing with the leadership of ATF was sufficient and reasonable.”
Clearly, it was not sufficient.
Mr. Breuer even admitted as much, saying: “I regret that I did not alert others within the leadership of the Department of Justice to the tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver when they first came to my attention.”
He regrets not bringing gunwalking in Wide Receiver to the attention of the Attorney General, but what about bringing it to the attention of Congress?
He didn’t even step forward to express his regret until emails that detailed his knowledge were about to be produced under Congressional subpoena.
It is astounding that it took the public controversy over Fast and Furious to help the chief of the Criminal Division realize that walking guns is unacceptable.
He’d had nine months after the February 4 letter to step forward, correct the record, and come clean with the American public.
He’d had 18 months after learning of gunwalking in Wide Reciever to put a stop to it and hold people accountable.
He failed to do so.
So during his testimony, I asked him point blank if he reviewed that February 4 letter before it was sent to me.
His misleading answers to these questions form the basis for my second reason for calling on Mr. Breuer to resign.
He responded that he couldn’t say for sure but suggested that he did not review the letter. He said: “[A]t that time, I was in Mexico dealing with the very real issues that we are all so committed to.”
Now, last Friday the Justice Department withdrew their February 4th letter to me because of its “inaccuracies.”
The department also turned over documents under subpoena about who participated in the drafting and review of the letter.
So imagine my surprise when I discover from documents provided Friday night that that Mr. Breuer was far more informed during the drafting of that letter than he admitted before the Judiciary Committee.
In fact, Mr. Breuer got frequent updates on the status of the letter while he was in Mexico.
He was sent versions of the letter four times.
Two versions were emailed to Mr. Breuer on February 4, after he’d returned from Mexico, including the version of the letter that was ultimately sent to me that day.
At that time, he forwarded the letter to his personal email account.
Mr. Breuer’s deputy also sent him two drafts of the letter while he was in Mexico, and he also forwarded one of those to his personal email account.
We do not know whether he did that in order to access it on a larger screen than a government-issued Blackberry or whether he engaged in any further discussion about the letter in his non-government email account.
However, we do know that in response to the draft received in Mexico, he wrote to one of the main drafters of the letter, “As usual, great work.”
The Justice Department excluded Breuer’s compliment about the content of the draft from the set of emails it released to the press on Friday.
That evening, Mr. Breuer submitted answers to written questions. He wrote:
“I have no recollection of having [seen the letter] and, given that I was on official travel that week and given the scope of my duties as Assistant Attorney General, I think it is exceedingly unlikely that I did so.”
So as late as Friday night, Mr. Breuer was still trying to minimize his role in reviewing the letter despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Why would Mr. Breuer say “great work” about a letter he claims not to have read?
It just isn’t credible that someone like Mr. Breuer would forget about his involvement in a matter like this.
Mr. Breuer’s failure to be candid and forthcoming before this body irreparably harms his credibility.
His complete lack of judgment and failure to deal with gunwalking when he first learned of it in April 2010, was bad enough, but this is the final straw.
Mr. Breuer has lost my confidence in his ability to effectively serve the Justice Department.
If you can’t be straight with Congress, you don’t need to be running the Criminal Division.
It’s time to stop spinning and start taking responsibility.
I have long said that the highest-ranking official who knew about gunwalking in Operation Fast and Furious needs to be held accountable.
That standard applies no less to officials who knew about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver.
Gunwalking is unacceptable no matter when it occurred.
Documents make clear that Assistant Attorney General Breuer was the highest-ranking official in the Justice Department who knew about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver.
He did nothing to correct the problems, alert others to the issue, take responsibility, or even admit what he knew until he was forced to by the evidence.
Therefore, I believe the Attorney General needs to ask for Mr. Breuer’s resignation and remove him from office if he refuses.
If Mr. Breuer wants to do the honorable thing, he should resign of his own accord.
Now I’m not someone who flippantly calls for resignations.
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.
He has failed in his job of ensuring that the government operates properly, including that people are held accountable.
Because of that, Mr. Breuer needs to go immediately.
Anything less will show the American people that the Justice Department isn’t serious about being honest with Congress in our attempt to get to the bottom of this.
Just last night, the Justice Department sent a letter refusing to provide several Justice Department staff for transcribed interviews.
The letter explicitly goes back on the assurances I received when I consented to proceed with the confirmation of three senior Justice Department officials.
One of my conditions for agreeing to proceed with those nominations was that officials who agreed to voluntary interviews in this investigation would have either a personal lawyer present or a Department lawyer present, but not both.
I personally met with the Attorney General and he had that condition listed on a piece of paper in front of him.
It looked as if he had read it and was familiar with it, yet he never objected to that condition.
Dozens of witness interviews have been conducted under that understanding with no problem.
The only difference now is that instead of ATF witnesses, we are now seeking to interview Justice Department witnesses.
Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
There’s no reason to change the rules in the middle of the game.
I was relying on the Attorney General and the other officials at the Department to honor their agreement.
Apparently, that’s not going to happen.
Fortunately, Chairman Issa has the ability to require the witnesses to appear via subpoena if they refuse to appear voluntarily under the conditions that the Department previously agreed to.
I am confident that he will do that if it becomes necessary. And, I will take whatever steps I have to take here in the Senate to encourage the Department to reconsider and stick to its original agreement.