(Washington Times) – The senior Justice Department official who sent a letter to a Republican senator falsely claiming that the department did not allow guns to be “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico during the Fast and Furious investigation left the department Wednesday to become dean of the Baltimore School of Law.
Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich told Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa — who had initiated Congress’s Fast and Furious probe — that accusations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them to Mexico were “false.”
“ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico,” Mr. Weich wrote in the Feb. 4, 2011, letter.
The Justice Department retracted that letter in December, with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. vigorously defending Mr. Weich and the department against charges of lying to Congress. “Nobody at the Justice Department has lied,” Mr. Holder said, adding that Mr. Weich did not know the information he had provided was inaccurate.
Mr. Weich is leaving just as a House committee gets ready to hold a hearing to decide whether to hold Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress for his refusal to turn over Justice Department documents concerning the Fast and Furious operation. That hearing, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is scheduled for Wednesday.
Mr. Holder and his staff are discussing a compromise with committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, to avoid a contempt vote.
In March, Mr. Weich refused a congressional subpoena for Fast and Furious documents, saying at the time that the department was concerned that information in them had been and would be released to the media. He said news stories at the time had “impeded the department’s efforts to hold individuals accountable for their illegal acts.”
In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Weich said that serving the department has been “a tremendous privilege” and that he was “pleased” with his Office of Legal Affairs accomplishments over the past three years. “We have worked effectively with Congress to advance the mission and goals of the Justice Department,” he said.
“Ron’s leadership has been instrumental in realizing crucial legislative achievements, and I thank him for his tireless advocacy of department priorities,” Mr. Holder said. “I am proud of the work done by the Office of Legislative Affairs under Ron’s watch to advance legislation vital to ensuring justice.”
Mr. Weich is leaving the department to join the University of Baltimore School of Law as its new dean. Appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in April 2009, he announced last month he would be leaving the department for the Baltimore position.
Judith C. Appelbaum, who has served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legislative Affairs, will serve as acting assistant attorney general following Mr. Weich’s departure.
Justice Department officials said that under Mr. Weich’s leadership, the Office of Legislative Affairs has worked to strengthen the department’s relationship with Congress. The office has represented the department in connection with numerous legislative achievements on issues of central importance, including the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Prior to joining Justice, Mr. Weich served as chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. He earlier served as counsel to Democratic then-Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and as a partner in the law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.