Darrell Issa Puts Details of Secret Wiretap Applications in Congressional Record
By Jonathan Strong Roll Call Staff June 29, 2012, 12:06 p.m.
In the midst of a fiery floor debate over contempt proceedings for Attorney General Eric Holder, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) quietly dropped a bombshell letter into the Congressional Record.
The May 24 letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member on the panel, quotes from and describes in detail a secret wiretap application that has become a point of debate in the GOP’s “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe.
The wiretap applications are under court seal, and releasing such information to the public would ordinarily be illegal. But Issa appears to be protected by the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution, which offers immunity for Congressional speech, especially on a chamber’s floor.
According to the letter, the wiretap applications contained a startling amount of detail about the operation, which would have tipped off anyone who read them closely about what tactics were being used.
Holder and Cummings have both maintained that the wiretap applications did not contain such details and that the applications were reviewed narrowly for probable cause, not for whether any investigatory tactics contained followed Justice Department policy.
The wiretap applications were signed by senior DOJ officials in the department’s criminal division, including Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco and another official who is now deceased.
In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns bought by “straw purchasers” to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.
The tactic, which was intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes, was condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.
Straw purchasers are individuals who buy guns on behalf of criminals, obscuring who is buying the weapons.
While Issa has since said he has obtained a number of wiretap applications, the letter only refers to one, from March 15, 2010. The full application is not included in what Issa entered into the Congressional Record, and names are obscured in Issa’s letter.
In the application, ATF agents included transcripts from a wiretap intercept from a previous Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that demonstrated the suspects were part of a gun-smuggling ring.
“The wiretap affidavit details that agents were well aware that large sums of money were being used to purchase a large number of firearms, many of which were flowing across the border,” the letter says.
The application included details such as how many guns specific suspects had purchased via straw purchasers and how many of those guns had been recovered in Mexico.
It also described how ATF officials watched guns bought by suspected straw purchasers but then ended their surveillance without interdicting the guns.
In at least one instance, the guns were recovered at a police stop at the U.S.-Mexico border the next day.
The application included financial details for four suspected straw purchasers showing they had purchased $373,000 worth of guns in cash but reported almost no income for the previous year, the letter says.
“Although ATF was aware of these facts, no one was arrested, and ATF failed to even approach the straw purchasers. Upon learning these details through its review of this wiretap affidavit, senior Justice Department officials had a duty to stop this operation. Further, failure to do so was a violation of Justice Department policy,” the letter says.
Holder declined to discuss the contents of the applications at a House Judiciary Committee hearing June 7 but said the applications were narrowly reviewed for whether there was probable cause to obtain a wiretap application.
Thousands of wiretap applications are reviewed each year by the DOJ’s criminal division. The applications are designed to obtain approval, so they tend to focus on the most suspicious information available.
A line attorney first creates a summary of the application, which is then usually reviewed by a deputy to Lanny Breuer, the head of the division, on his behalf. It is then reviewed and approved or denied by a judge.
Cummings has sided with the DOJ in the debate over the secret applications, but the full substance of his argument is unknown.
A June 5 letter from Cummings responding to Issa’s May 24 letter said Issa “omits the critical fact that [redacted].” The entire first section of the letter’s body is likewise blacked out.
"Sadly, it looks like Mr. Issa is continuing his string of desperate and unsubstantiated claims, while hiding key information from the very same documents," a Democratic committee staffer said. "His actions demonstrate a lack of concern for the facts, as well as a reckless disregard for our nation’s courts and federal prosecutors who are trying to bring criminals to justice. We’re not going to stoop to his level. Obviously, we are going to honor the court’s seal and the prosecutors’ requests. But if Mr. Issa won’t tell you what he is hiding from the wiretaps, you should ask him why."
Here's a Second Article Covering this Issue...You Probably Won't See This Covered in the State-Run Media....
Issa reveals wiretap docs from DOJ mole
By Jordy Yager - 06/29/12 04:30 PM ET
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has revealed portions of sealed wiretap applications related to the botched gun-tracking operation “Fast and Furious.”
Issa entered the sensitive, and previously undisclosed, information into the Congressional Record on Thursday during the floor debate leading up to the passage of his resolution placing Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
The powerful Republican might be protected from what otherwise would be a criminal offense under Congress’s speech and debate clause because the remarks were written into the public record during chamber proceedings.
During his probe of Fast and Furious as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has focused on a series of six wiretap applications that federal officials implemented in an attempt to dismantle gun-trafficking rings in the Southwest.
The applications, which are under a federal court’s seal, were given to Issa by a mole with access to the documents. Issa has claimed they reveal that top-level Justice Department officials signed off on the documents and knew about the controversial “gun-walking” tactics used in Fast and Furious. Issa has called his source a “whistleblower” and refused to disclose his or her identity.
“The enclosed wiretap affidavit contains clear information that agents were willfully allowing known straw buyers to acquire firearms for drug cartels and failing to interdict them — in some cases even allowing them to walk to Mexico,” stated a letter Issa sent to his panel’s ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), which was put into the record on Thursday.
“In particular, the affidavit explicitly describes the most controversial tactic of all: abandoning surveillance of known straw purchasers, resulting in the failure to interdict firearms.”
Gun “walking” occurs when a federal official allows a gun to be transferred illegally into a suspected criminals’ possession and they make no attempt to retake possession of the firearm. The tactic is at the heart of why administration and congressional officials have criticized Fast and Furious so vehemently.
Issa argued the information in the wiretap applications raises questions about whether Holder told Congress the truth. Holder has previously testified that he has reviewed the documents and concluded that nothing in them suggested senior DOJ officials should have known about the controversial tactics being employed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which ran the operation.
“The detailed information about the operational tactics contained in the applications raises new questions about statements of senior Justice Department officials, including the Attorney General himself,” said Issa in his May letter to Cummings.
“The affidavit reveals that the Justice Department has been misrepresenting important facts to Congress and withholding critical details about Fast and Furious from the Committee for months on end.”
Issa has been investigating Fast and Furious for 16 months, with specific emphasis on the role the DOJ played in approving the flawed operation. President Obama and Holder have repeatedly said they didn’t know about the “gun walking” tactics until after an ATF agent made news of them public.
In testimony before the House Rules Committee this week, Issa told lawmakers that he had no evidence that Holder was responsible for Fast and Furious. But on Thursday, the California Republican successfully passed civil and criminal resolutions placing Holder in contempt for not responding to a congressional subpoena for documents.
Issa has demanded the DOJ to turn over internal communications over a 10-month period that detailed how the department realized that the ATF had let guns “walk” after stating in a letter to Congress that it made every attempt to stop them.
According to one of the wiretap applications, which included lengthy transcriptions of conversations between alleged straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels, a suspect told an associate over the phone: “Can you hold them [firearms] for me there for a little while there?”
The associate responded, “Well it's that I do not want to have them at home, dude, because there is a lot of … uh, it's too much heat at my house.”
The news about Issa's entry into the Congressional Record was first reported by Roll Call.
— This story was updated at 5:12 p.m.