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Tag: elijah cummings

Cummings, Conyers: Congress Must Act to Avoid Unchecked Powers of Trump’s Presidency

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Rep. Elijah Cummings

By Congressmen Elijah E. Cummings and John Conyers
Op-Ed, Baltimore Sun

On Saturday, Oct. 20, 1973, President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox because he refused to back down from his pursuit of the Watergate tapes. Nearly a half century later, President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because of, in the president’s own words, “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia.” And Wednesday, the president complained about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation; Mr. Trump said he “would have picked someone else” to run the Department of Justice has he known that was coming.

How Congress responds to moments like these matters. The differences between Congress’ response in 1973 and our response today are stark — and, frankly, disappointing. In 1973, the House Judiciary Committee had a serious and bipartisan response, subpoenaing and eventually releasing the Watergate tapes. The current Republican response has been tepid at best; they have not issued a single subpoena to the White House, and Speaker Paul Ryan defended Mr. Trump’s interference in the Russia investigation by assuring us that “he’s just new to this.”

As the senior Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, we believe it is critical that Special Counsel Robert Mueller be given the independence, time and resources to conduct a thorough investigation and report his findings to Congress. At the same time, as a co-equal branch of government, Congress must fulfill its constitutional duty to investigate the full range of Trump administration and Trump campaign actions.

Successful congressional investigations develop a comprehensive, fact-based record to form the basis for further action. The House and Senate Watergate investigations led to Nixon’s resignation and adoption of the Ethics in Government Act. It was serious, deliberative, bipartisan, transparent and operated in parallel to law enforcement investigations.

In the absence of any meaningful investigation by House Republicans, Democratic members have sent requests for information on our own. Our efforts have been met with months of stonewalling. The Trump White House recently told government agencies “not to cooperate [with any oversight] requests from Democrats,” and issued a contrived Justice Department legal opinion that such queries are “not properly considered to be oversight requests.”

We will continue to press for answers because the information we seek goes to the central question of the Trump presidency: Is the administration acting in the public interest, or merely to benefit the private interests of President Trump?

To read more click here.

Top Democrat Requests Secret Service Records on Trump Jr. Meeting

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Rep. Elijah Cummings

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is requesting documents that would reveal the vetting of who arrived and exited the Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.

Cummings’ request is intended to clear up “recent conflicting reports” on the Secret Service’s role in vetting the Russian-connected officials who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul Manafort at the Trump Tower in June 2016, Business Insider reports. 

On Sunday, President Trump’s lawyer suggested the Secret Service would not have permitted Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and former Soviet military intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin into the Trump Tower if anything nefarious was happening. The Secret Service responded that Trump Jr. was not under the agency’s protection at the time and therefore “would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at the time.”

Political Bickering Heats Up Over Contempt Vote for Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr.P

Holder wearing badge and ribbon/aft webpage

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The politicization over ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious and Attorney General Eric Holder’s response to turning over subpoenaed documents continued to heat up on Monday.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who has been leading the charge, says he plans to hold a contempt vote for Holder next week (June 20), saying Holder has been withholding documents for no legit reason.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) weighed in as well, saying:

“The Justice Department is out of excuses. Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious…. Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the Attorney General in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

Under Operation Fast and Furious, ATF encouraged gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers, all with the hope of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels. Problem was, ATF lost track of many of the guns and some surfaced at crime scenes.

But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Democratic Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, shot back, saying:

“It is unfortunate that the Committee scheduled a contempt vote against the Attorney General when federal law prohibits him from turning over many of the subpoenaed documents, but I am guardedly optimistic that a path forward exists that will serve the legitimate interests of the Committee in conducting rigorous oversight, protect the legitimate interests of the Department in its ongoing investigations and prosecutions, and avoid the needless politicization of this very serious issue.”

The bickering is only expected to get louder.

Dem Lawmaker Accuses Rep. Issa of “Election Year Witch Hunt” in Congressional Probe

Rep. Elijah Cummings/govt. photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,  on Thursday accused Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican committee chair, of an “election year witch hunt” in going after the Attorney General and the Justice Department during a Congressional probe into the flawed Operation Fast and Furious.

Referring to a minority staff committee report released this week — which indicated Holder and other top Justice officials  never gave the green light for Fast and Furious — Cummings accused Issa of “escalating unsubstantiated allegations” during his Congressional probe.

Cummings accusations came during a hearing on Fast and Furious, an ATF program out of Phoenix that encouraged straw purchasers to buy guns from dealers, all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels. ATF lost track of many weapons, some of which showed up at crimes scenes on both sides of the border.

Cummings pointed out that the “gun walking” operations out of Phoenix began five years ago — even before Fast and Furious —  during the Bush years and while Michael Mukasey was attorney general.

Cummings went on to say to Issa: “Mr. chairman, although you deserve credit for exposing these operations over the last five years, we part ways in to what we should  do next. You now appear intent on escalating controversy and promoting unsubstantiated  allegations in a campaign that looks more like an election year witch hunt  than an even handed investigation. This is the sixth time, the sixth time, the attorney general has testified on these issues.”

“In contrast, you never once called the former head of the ATF  to testify at a public hearing even though ATF was the agency responsible for these reckless programs. And although Attorney General Holder has answered questions repeatedly, you refuse to even interview former Attorney General Mukasey.”

Republican committee members took sharp aim at Holder during his appearance before the committee, accusing him of withholding documents to cover up something, and of failing to discipline anyone in the Justice Department for Fast and Furious. Issa has accused the Justice Department of being less than forthright in cooperating with his probe into the gun walking matter.

Democrats defended Holder.

Buerkle to Atty Gen. Holder: You Must be Held Accountable for Fast and Furious and Agent Terry’s Murder

 

Dem Staff Report Says Top Justice Officials Did Not Give Green Light for Fast and Furious

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A report issued late Monday night by the Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform tries to debunk suggestions by Republicans that high level appointees at the Justice Department conceived and directed the very flawed ATF Operation Fast and Furious. It places the blame for the operation squarely on the agents in Phoenix.

“This report debunks many unsubstantiated conspiracy theories,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the top ranking Democrat,  wrote in a cover letter for the detailed report. “Contrary to repeated claims by some, the committee has obtained no evidence that Operation Fast and Furious was a politically motivated operation conceived and directed by high-level Obama administration political appointees at the Department of Justice.”

“The documents obtained and interviews conducted by the Committee indicate that it was the latest in a series of reckless and fatally flawed operations run by ATF’s Phoenix Field Division during both the previous and current administrations,” Cummings wrote.

The report counters repeated claims by Republicans like Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif) that top ranking Justice Dept. officials gave the green light for  Fast and Furious.  Under the operation, ATF’s Phoenix office encouraged gun dealers to sell to “straw purchasers”, all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels.  Some of the weapons surfaced at crime scenes including at the murder scene in Arizona of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.  Many Republicans have called for Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, to resign.

The report is expected to be met with skepticism by many Republicans and critics of ATF, which has come under intense scrutiny, and has undergone a major shakeup in management. Holder is scheduled to appear before Issa’s and Cumming’s committee on Thursday where he’s likely to get a grilling from the Republicans.

Cummings, who has sometimes been at odds with Issa over Fast and Furious, said in a press release  that the minority staff report was the result “of the Committee’s year-long investigation into the actions and circumstances that led to multiple gunwalking operations in Arizona from 2006 to 2010.”

The report concludes that the ATF Phoenix office failed to use sufficient controls to stop weapons from getting into the hands of violent criminals.

“Although this report provides a great amount of detail about what we have learned to date, it has several shortcomings,” Cummings wrote in his letter. “Despite requests from me and others, the Committee never held a hearing or even conducted an interview with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. The Committee obtained documents indicating that in 2007 he was personally informed about the failure of previous law enforcement operations involving the illegal smuggling of weapons into Mexico, and that he received a proposal to expand these operations. Since the Committee failed to speak with Mr. Mukasey, we do not have the benefit of his input about why these operations were allowed to continue after he was given this information.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings/govt. photo

“The Committee also rejected my request to hold a public hearing with Kenneth Melson, the former Acting Director of ATF, the agency primarily responsible for these operations. Although Committee staff conducted an interview with Mr. Melson, the public has not had an opportunity to hear his explanations for why these operations continued for so many years without adequate oversight from ATF headquarters.”

The report states that in 2006, ATF agents in Phoenix initiated Operation Wide Receiver with the cooperation of a local gun dealer.

“For months, ATF agents watched in realtime as traffickers purchased guns and drove them across the border into Mexico,” the report states.

The report also states “that ATF’s former Acting Director, Kenneth Melson, and ATF’s Deputy Director, William Hoover, told Committee staff that gunwalking violated agency doctrine,that they did not approve it, and that they were not aware that ATF agents in Phoenix were using the tactic in Operation Fast and Furious. They also stated that, because they did not know about the use of gunwalking in Operation Fast and Furious, they never raised it up the chain of command to senior Justice Department officials.”

The report further stated: “Former Phoenix U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke told Committee staff that although he received multiple briefings on Operation Fast and Furious, he did not approve gunwalking, was not aware it was being used, and did not inform officials in Washington about its use.”

“He told Committee staff that, at the time he approved the proposal for a broader strategy targeting cartel leaders instead of straw purchasers, he had been informed that there was no probable cause to make any arrests and that he had been under the impression that ATF agents were working closely with Mexican officials to interdict weapons.”

The report goes on to state: “Gary Grindler, the former Acting Deputy Attorney General, and Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, both stated that neither ATF nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office ever brought to their attention concerns about gunwalking in Operation Fast and Furious, and that, if they had been told, they ‘would have stopped it.’”

“When allegations of gunwalking three years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver were brought to the attention of Mr. Breuer in 2010, he immediately directed his deputy to share their concerns directly with ATF’s leadership. He testified, however, that he regretted not raising these concerns directly with the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General, stating, “if I had known then what I know now, I, of course, would have told the Deputy and the Attorney General.”

“The Committee has obtained no evidence indicating that the Attorney General authorized gunwalking or that he was aware of such allegations before they became public. None of the 22 witnesses interviewed by the Committee claims to have spoken with the Attorney General about the specific tactics employed in Operation Fast and Furious prior to the public controversy.”

For 2nd Time in Less than a Week, Rep. Cummings Blasts Rep. Issa Over Fast and Furious

Rep. Elijah Cummings/govt. photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

For the second time in less than  a week, Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings has publicly blasted  Republican Rep. Darrell Issa over ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious, which encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to middlemen, all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels. ATF lost track of many of the weapons.

The latest round started Thursday when Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley fired off a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III inquiring whether a third weapon from Operation Fast and Furious was recovered at the scene in Arizona where Border Agent Brian Terry was killed last December. The FBI has been investigating the case and had stated that only two guns were recovered and that ballistic tests were inconclusive as to whether they were used in the murder.

Thursday’s letter from Issa and Grassley to the FBI director, which was posted on ABC News’ website,  stated: “Several internal emails between ATF personnel initially indicated confusion over whether there were two or three weapons being traced. Given all these circumstances, it is reasonable to ask the FBI to clarify what it has learned about how many guns were possessed by the illegal aliens shooting at our Border Patrol agents and the current location of each of those firearms.”

Rep. Issa/gov photo

The letter asked:  “Does the FBI believe that a third weapon killed Agent Terry? If so, what steps has the FBI taken to locate the weapon and what is the status of the FBI’s search?”

In a press release issued Thursday, Rep. Cummings, who sits with Issa on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, blasted Issa, saying the FBI had already said there was no third weapon. Cummings earlier in the week had chastised Issa for making the same allegations about a third weapon  on Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation.

“Frankly, I am shocked that Chairman Issa would continue to spin this conspiracy theory—that the FBI is hiding a third weapon—even after his recent allegations proved false,” Cumming said on Thursday. ” Rather than acknowledging this embarrassing mistake and apologizing for making false accusations about the FBI, Chairman Issa’s letter is an unprecedented attack on the integrity and credibility of law enforcement that could seriously jeopardize the ongoing prosecution.”

Cummings’ press release Thursday continued: “On Sunday, Issa told Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer that he suspected the FBI had recovered a third gun at the scene of the murder, but was hiding that evidence to protect a confidential informant.”

“Issa based his erroneous claim on supposed flaws in the FBI’s evidence-marking procedure. Two firearms recovered at the scene were marked ‘K2’ and ‘K3.’ Issa suggested on Sunday that a firearm labeled ‘K1’ must be missing: ‘when you have tickets that are numbered two and three and there’s no ticket one, in other words, the weapon – one weapon has a two, one has a three on it, there’s no one.’ He claimed that it is ‘weapon number one that appears to be missing.’”

After Issa’s remarks on Sunday, the Justice Department issued a statement saying:  “Unfortunately, this most recent false accusation not only maligns the dedicated agents investigating the murder of Agent Terry, it mischaracterizes evidence in an ongoing case.” The Justice Department added: “According to the FBI, the item that Chairman Issa refers to as ‘K1’ is a blood sample from Agent Terry, not a firearm.”

Dem Sharply Criticizes Rep. Issa for Attacks on Atty.Gen. Holder Concerning Fast and Furious

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Criticism about ATF’s controversial Operation Fast and Furious have overwhelming come from Republicans like Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley.  But not everyone agrees with the intensity of the criticism.

On Sunday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight & Government Reform Committee, told CBS’ Face the Nation that he thinks committee Chair Darrell Issa is conducting a witch hunt.

Issa has been aggressively investigating the failing of the operation and has repeatedly accused Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. of knowing more about the operation when it was going on then he has admitted to.

Holder claimed earlier this year that he only heard of the operation after it surfaced as a controversy. Issa has claimed he knew about it much earlier.

Cummings said on “Face the Nation” Sunday that Holder absolutely “didn’t know” what was going on.

“The man in charge of the ATF has told us, has told Mr. Issa, that he never communicated the controversial tactics with regard to ‘Fast & Furious’ to Attorney General Holder,” Cummings told CBS’ Bob Schieffer.

Cummings said the head of the ATF at the time, Ken Melson, wasn’t even aware of the tactics being used that encouraged firearms stores to sell to middlemen, all with the hopes that the ATF could trace the guns to the Mexican cartels. ATF lost track of hte many of the guns, two of which surfaced at the scene in Arizona last year where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was gunned down.

“And still, Chairman Issa goes out there – and Republicans – accusing the highest law enforcement officer in the land of being an accessory to murder and things of that nature, and calling for his resignation,” he said on the show.  “Just because … you don’t like some facts, you don’t throw them out the door and say, ‘I’m not going to look at those.’ You look at the entire picture.

“That simply has not happened here,” he said.

When asked if he agreed with the notion that “the chairman is on a witch hunt here,” Cummings said, “I do.”

“He’s come up with these statements and then he goes in search of the facts,” he added.

UPDATED: Oct. 17: 2:05 p.m.

Becca Glover Watkins, press secretary for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of which Issa chairs, responded to questions from ticklethewire.com by issuing a statement that said:

“Despite his commitment to the Terry family, Ranking Member Cummings and the Oversight Committee minority has been conspicuously absent from efforts to uncover new evidence or press the Justice Department to fully answer questions. Their own rhetoric and actions reveal them as apologists for the Justice Department and not as investigators seeking answers.”

 

Rep. Issa’s Committee Probing ATF Released Sealed Document in Criminal Case

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In their apparent zest to learn the truth about a controversial ATF program “Operation Fast and Furious”, and generate public pressure,  staffers working for House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may have gone too far — at least according to committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

The website Talking Points Memo (TPM) reported that Cummings fired off a letter Monday to Rep. Issa saying the committee improperly disclosed a sealed document which could have compromised a criminal investigation.

Cummings letter said Justice Department officials met with committee staffers on May 5 and told them they had wrongly released the document sealed by a federal judge.

“Your staff stated that they were unaware that the document was under seal when they disclosed it to the press, but they discovered the breach soon afterwards,” Cummings wrote in the letter to Issa, according to the website.

“At the conclusion of that meeting, and at the request of the Department, your staff seemed to agree that consultation would help avoid such mistakes in the future.”

TPM said an Issa spokeswoman did not respond for comment. TPM noted that the letter came after Cummings warned at a hearing on Monday that there was a “dangerous potential to compromise criminal prosecutions” when congressional committees looked into active investigations.

“Some committees have conducted investigations during open federal prosecutions, but in these relatively rare cases, committees have consulted meticulously with the Department to ensure that their actions do not negatively affect ongoing prosecutions,” Cummings said.

“For example, they have reached agreements to consult with the Department before publicly releasing documents or reports, to refrain from obtaining documents relating to certain sensitive sources or methodologies, and to secure limited information against public release.”

Interestingly, TPM noted that back in 2007 Issa argued that the Oversight Committee should hold off investigating Blackwater until the State Dept. finished its probe. The Dems had pushed for the investigation.

“We’re supposed to allow the administration to do its investigation and then we do oversight,” Issa said at the time, according to TPM. “We’re not investigators.”