"Face the Nation" transcript: October 16, 2011

Darrell Issa Elijah Cummings Face The Nation

Below is a rush transcript of "Face the Nation" on October 16, 2011, hosted by CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. The guests are Republican  Congressman Darrell Issa, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, CBS News Investigative Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News, CBS News Chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell and CBS News political analyst John Dickerson.

You can watch the full show by clicking on the video player above.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on FACE THE NATION, operation Fast and Furious. Why would the government allow thousands of guns to walk across the border to Mexico? It was an operation implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to trace guns getting into the hands of the Mexican drug cartel. But when border patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in Arizona and two of the guns sent undercover by the U.S. government into Mexico were found at the crime scene, the program exploded in controversy. Could one of those walked guns be responsible for the death of a federal agent? The head of the ATF has stepped down. A U.S. attorney in Arizona has resigned and lesser officials have been transferred or replaced. But questions remain. Who instituted the program? What did attorney general Eric Holder know about it, and when?

ERIC HOLDER (Attorney General): I'm not sure of the exact date but I probably have heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Was there a cover-up, a scandal or is it all just politics? We'll talk to Congressman Darrell Issa, the congressional chairman investigating the Justice Department's role and Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on his committee. We'll also bring in CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson who first broke the story. And then, we'll talk politics and get the latest on the Republican presidential race from Chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell, political analyst John Dickerson and Bloomberg News's Julianna Goldman. It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

ANNOUNCER: From CBS News in Washington, FACE THE NATION with Bob Schieffer.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And good morning again and welcome to FACE THE NATION. And joining us Congressman Darrell Issa who took that old red eye to get here and be with us this morning from his district in San Diego. Also CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson who-- who broke this story. Mister Chairman, thank you so much for--

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA (Chair, Government Reform & Oversight Committee): Thank you for having me on, Bob.

BOB SCHIEFFER: This whole business about this operation Fast and Furious really blew up last December, as we said in the opening, when border patrol agent Brian Terry was killed and two guns connected to this operation were found at the scene of the crime. The FBI has said the evidence was inconclusive as to whether those guns were the ones responsible for this murder. But I understand you've learned there may have been another gun at the scene of the crime, and I understand you're writing to the FBI director to ask for more information. Are--are you suggesting, sir, that the FBI may have tampered with evidence at the scene?

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: Well we're not suggesting that but 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. When agents who were at Brian Terry's funeral made statements to his mother indicating that there were three weapons, when the two weapons that they have tested don't conclusively match up, then you look and say, well, was there a third weapon at the scene? Were there additional people who escaped with weapons? The Terry family has-- has suffered a great deal, and it doesn't seem like the answers are coming. More importantly, our investigation has never been about trying to get to the top of the problem, we're trying to get to the bottom of the problem. See, who thought it was a good idea, who allowed it to-- to continue, sort of go up the chain to find out all the places that this should have been stopped, but wasn't.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, but let me ask you, why would it be important to find a-- a third gun? Are you suggesting that maybe that might be the gun, that evidence shows was the murder weapon and for some reason the FBI has not disclosed that?

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: Well, we certainly want to know in some cases as you know, there are investigations where there's materials that people feel are very sensitive. If that's the case, tell us their sensitive materials are being withheld but all along in this case, there have been undercharging, initially the people involved in-- in these weapons trafficking, at least one of them was undercharged. In other words, not charged in connection to Brian Terry's murder. So, there's been that sort of inconsistency. And again, we know that under the Bush administration, there were similar operations but they were coordinated with Mexico, they made every effort to keep their eyes on the weapons the whole time. So, we're not per se saying that tracing weapons is a bad idea.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Okay. Well Sharyl, what do you-- what do you make of this?

SHARYL ATTKISSON: I was going to ask, could you explain why law enforcement would theoretically, if it happened, tamper with the evidence, what are the bigger implications beyond the Terry family as to why there could be something going on at the scene that would be so important that we still wouldn't know what happened there ten months later?

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: Well, you know, when I asked the attorney general when he knew about Fast and Furious, I expected any number of answers except the one that it had only been a couple of weeks, more than a month after the President had made a statement about Eric Holder not authorizing it. You get these inconsistencies in an investigation as you know because you are an investigative reporter. You-- you follow the inconsistencies. Some of them lead nowhere. In this case, these inconsistencies and the fact that the family is still not getting the kind of treatment you would expect as crime victims and crime victims of the law enforcement officer, cause us to say, well, let's look at the FBI. You know, Kenneth Nelson and other cooperating witnesses have made it clear that there is a general pattern of play a shell game with Congress, we'll take care of this ourselves. And as you know, the FBI has a history in some cases of working with felons and criminals and hiding their other crimes in order to keep an investigation going.


REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: We thought that was behind us but it might not be.