Last-Minute Meeting Stirs Up Past Slights

Sen. Chuck Grassley Confronts at Eleventh Hour Huddle

Posted June 20, 2012 at 6:27pm

When Attorney General Eric Holder met late Tuesday in the Capitol with top Congressional oversight officials, aides described a civil tone at odds with the “impending constitutional crisis” at risk, as Holder had described it in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

Holder, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) each took short turns speaking with almost no interruptions.

“They were on their best behavior,” one person in the room said.

But when Grassley’s turn came, he confronted Holder about a similar face-to-face meeting the two had one year earlier.

At that meeting, Grassley and Holder struck a deal for the Iowa Republican to lift his hold on the nomination of James Cole to be deputy attorney general.

Grassley claims Holder did not stick to the deal, and that is part of the reason Republicans couldn’t trust his promise to produce a key category of documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe and cancel the contempt of Congress vote that Issa’s panel approved 23-17 Wednesday.

According to a copy of the agreement and handwritten notes from the meeting reviewed by Roll Call, Holder acceded to Grassley participating in the investigation on a par with Issa’s staff and agreed to answer a set of detailed written questions, produce a key document and make other accommodations to the investigation.

But the Justice Department tried to renege on one part of the agreement within hours of the meeting, emails reviewed by Roll Call show.

In the deal, the DOJ agreed to provide that evening a memo sent from a key official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to ATF headquarters following the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

But hours later, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich called Grassley’s staff. The memo contained law enforcement sensitive materials, Weich said, and although he could read it over the phone, he could not provide a copy to GOP investigators.

As a DOJ official noted to Roll Call, the agency did eventually hand over the memo, but only after Grassley’s staff went around Weich to Gary Grindler, Holder’s chief of staff.

The deal also stated that Holder would answer every subpart of a detailed set of written questions Grassley had sent after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about a month earlier within one month of Grassley lifting his hold.

Holder personally vouched that the answers would be forthcoming and in good faith, but Grassley felt the answers he received a month later were lacking.

Two other issues also flared up.

Grassley said the DOJ tried to insist that its lawyers be present at transcribed interviews with officials who had already retained a personal lawyer, against terms of the deal. A DOJ official said that interviews with officials with personal lawyers were not scheduled in consultation with the DOJ.

The agreement also said that interview transcripts were the possession of Congressional investigators, although the DOJ asked for a copy of former ATF acting chief Ken Melson’s transcript. The DOJ official said the agreement did not preclude the department from asking for an interview transcript.