Still fending off calls for his resignation over the Department of Justice’s botched “Fast and Furious” gun smuggling operation, Holder was hit with a fresh investigation this week amid reports that the DEA is laundering money for Mexico’s brutal drug cartels.
The probe was prompted by a Sunday New York Times investigation that found U.S. agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in illegal cash across the border into Mexico. The relatively new program, part of Washington’s expanded role in Mexico’s drug war, is designed “to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are,” according to NYT reporter Ginger Thompson.
But it is not clear whether the DEA stings are doing anything to put a dent in drug profits or significantly disrupt cartel operations. In fact, as one former agency official told the NYT, “the D.E.A. could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths.”
Congressional Republicans have seized on the report as more evidence of the Obama DOJ’s mismanaged approach to the Mexican drug war, grouping it together with the disastrous Fast and Furious gunrunning operation in which ATF agents allowed more than 2,000 U.S. guns to disappear across the border.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is now expanding his Fast & Furious investigation to include the alleged DEA cartel money laundering scheme.
In a letter to Holder this week, Issa requested that the Attorney General’s provide Congress with a full briefing of the money laundering operations, turning the heat up on Holder before his House testimony this Thursday.
“The existence of such a program again calls your leadership into question,” Issa wrote. “The managerial structure you have implemented lacks appropriate operational safeguards to prevent the implementation of such dangerous schemes. The consequences have been disastrous.”
Holder’s testimony is bound to be heated, in light of the new money laundering reports. Holder will also likely face questions about last week’s Fast & Furious document dump, which explained how DOJ officials provided false information to Congressional investigators about the existence of the program.
The United States insisted Tuesday that operations to combat money laundering are coordinated fully with Mexico, amid controversy over a report that US agents laundered drug proceeds to see how the system works.
Responding to a New York Times report, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said “these types of operations are aimed at disrupting these money laundering networks, and they’re fully vetted and fully coordinated with Mexican authorities.”
The Times report on Sunday said anti-narcotics agents working for the US government have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds to see how the system works and use information against Mexican drug cartels.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works with Mexican authorities to gather and use information about these criminal organizations to counter threats that they pose to both our countries,” Toner stressed.
According to these officials, the operations were aimed at identifying how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are, the report said.
The agents had deposited the proceeds in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents, the paper noted.
While the DEA conducted such operations in other countries, it began doing so in Mexico only in the past few years, The Times said.
The Mexican government said bilateral work is done in an existing legal framework that covers activities of international authorities on Mexican territory.
But many politicians in Mexico want more information.
The Senate security committee chairman in Mexico City, Felipe Gonzalez, said President Felipe Calderon should report to Congress on the anti-money laundering operations.
“We want the facts about what has been achieved in terms of arrests, seizures of funds and crime reduction,” said Gonzalez of the ruling National Action Party.
Some 45,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006, when its government launched a major military crackdown against the powerful drug cartels.