This afternoon, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself over comments he made over the botched ATF gunrunning sting Operation Fast and Furious. Fox News immediately aired a "News Alert" report detailing these allegations; they have since devoted several segments to the charges.
It's worth pointing out that no such coverage was provided by the network's primetime lineup in 2007, when Senate Democrats accused then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of perjuring himself in congressional testimony about President Bush's domestic surveillance program. At the time, Fox's evening lineup devoted a total of three segments to the Senate Democrats' call for a special prosecutor, all on Fox News' Special Report, totaling less than 12 minutes of coverage.*
In segments on the July 26, 27, and 30 editions of Special Report, Fox personalities repeatedly downplayed the allegations against Gonzales or suggested that the Senate Democrats were politically motivated. Special Report host Brit Hume asked: "Did Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lie under oath in a senate hearing last week or was he carefully parsing words about two elements of the same terrorist surveillance program? Even if he were doing the latter, would it satisfy senators who were calling for his scalp?" Bret Baier asked whether Democrats are "barking up the wrong tree, calling this perjury"; Charles Krauthammer replied that they were.
Smith and media outlets are pointing to the following exchange between Holder and Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) as potentially perjurous:
ISSA: Mr. Attorney General, we have two Border Patrol agents who are dead, who were killed by guns that were allowed, as far as we can tell, to deliberately walk out of gun shops under the program often called Fast and Furious.
This program, as you know -- and the president's been asked about it; you've been asked about it -- allowed for weapons to be sold to straw purchasers. And ultimately, many of those weapons are today in the hands of drug cartels and other criminals.
When did you first know about the program officially, I believe, called Fast and Furious? To the best of your knowledge, what date?
HOLDER: I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.
Smith and media outlets are claiming that this statement is contradicted by recently leaked memos sent to Holder in 2010 which reference the operation. According to the Justice Department, Holder misunderstood Issa's question and thought he was referring to when Holder learned about the controversial tactics used in the operation, not when he first saw references to the existence of the program. DOJ also says that the references to Fast and Furious came in routine weekly reports that often run to more than 100 pages. Even National Review has noted that the documents do not provide information on Fast and Furious tactics.
*Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database's transcripts of Fox programs between 5 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. ET (The Big Story with John Gibson, Special Report, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, and On The Record with Greta van Susteren). The Fox Report was not included because it is not in Nexis. We searched for "perjury and Alberto Gonzales and (special prosecutor or special counsel or independent prosecutor or independent counsel)).