History of “Fast and Furious”
In 2009, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) office in Phoenix, Arizona, sold weapons to gun buyers, hoping to track them to weapons buyers traffickers along the southwestern border and into Mexico. This operation has become known as “Fast and Furious,” a.k.a. “gun walker.” Their efforts failed. The number of unaccounted for weapons was about 1,500, with about two-thirds of those guns going to Mexico.
This misguided operation had serious consequences. On December 15, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed during an effort to catch several bad guys targeting illegal immigrants in Arizona. When law enforcement came to the scene, they discovered two of the killers’ assault rifles were among those sold as part of Operation Fast and Furious. Operation Fast and Furious was shut down after Terry’s murder. Two weapons involved in Fast and Furious were found at the site of Terry’s murder. Additionally, Fifty seven Fast and Furious weapons have been connected to at least an additional eleven violent crimes in the U.S. Forty two weapons were seized from two crime scenes in El Paso, Texas, alone.
In December 2010, ATF agent Vince Cefalu said, “Simply put, we knowingly let hundreds of guns and dozens of identified bad guys go across the border.” Other agents later came forward, congressional hearings were held, and President Barack Obama called the operation “a serious mistake.” Cefalu was forced to resign. On August 30, 2011, more Fast and Furious related personnel changes occurred when the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Kenneth Melson, the acting head of the ATF who presided over the operation, was replaced and transferred to the Office of Legal Policy.
Kenneth Melson resigned as head of ATF the Department of Justice announced August 30, 2011. He will be replaced by B. Todd Jones, a federal prosecutor in Minnesota. The White House is still hoping to get Senate confirmation for Andrew Traver, head of the ATF in Chicago. Then, on the same day, U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, who oversaw the legal aspects of the Fast and Furious operation and provided advice to agents involved, announced his resignation. Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor for Operation Fast and Furious cases in Burke’s office, was reassigned.
Fast and Furious is technically legal under ATF rules because the agents were not directly supplying guns to the cartels. ATF agents in Phoenix implemented the operation, naming it Operation Fast and Furious because most of straw buyers worked at auto shops, like Vin Diesel’s character in the 2001 movie, The Fast and the Furious. According to ATF in January 2010, ATF agents worked with the Phoenix DEA and the U.S. prosecutors in Arizona on the investigations. In some cases, ATF agents even used DOJ-funded wire tapping to track the guns.
Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke Resigns
Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke, whose office was heavily involved in the Fast and Furious operation, resigned yesterday (August 30, 2011). Burke said his resignation would be effective immediately. Said Burke, “it is the right time to move on to pursue other aspects of my career and my life and allow the office to move ahead.” His resignation comes two weeks after his testimony about Fast and Furious before Issa’s committee. “I get to stand up when we have a great case to announce and take all the credit for it regardless of how much work I did on it,” Burke said. “So, when our office makes mistakes, I need to take responsibility, and this is a case, as reflected by the work of this investigation, it should not have been done the way it was done, and I want to take responsibility for that, and I’m not falling on a sword or trying to cover for anyone else.” Issa’s office said Burke’s resignation does not excuse him from his promise of future testimony. “The committee still expects him to honor his commitment,” committee spokesman Frederick Hill said.
Darrell Issa’s and Charles Grassley’s Investigation
The gunrunning operation is now the subject of a Congressional investigation, led by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), to identify who in the DOJ was responsible for or knew about the sting. Issa and Grassley have made it clear that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder – a confidant of President Barack Obama – is a central focus of their investigation. So far, the DOJ has ignored the Issa/Grassley investigation. But recent testimony from ATF director Kenneth Melson claimed that the cartel leaders targeted by Fast and Furious were allegedly paid informants for the DEA and the FBI. If true, the allegations could harm the credibility of the entire Justice Department.
Issa said in a statement that “the reckless disregard for safety that took place in Operation Fast and Furious certainly merits changes.” He said his committee will pursue its investigation to ensure that “blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department.” Grassley, whose investigation brought problems with Operation Fast and Furious to light, called for a full accounting from the Justice Department as to “who knew what and when, so we can be sure that this ill-advised strategy never happens again.”
Issa released emails at the outset of his hearing on the Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious, showing two high-ranking officials were “briefed weekly” on the investigative strategy. The emails are the most direct evidence yet of involvement in the operation by top Justice Department officials, and make it unlikely such officials were ignorant about the details of the operation when the Justice Department initially denied assault guns were knowingly allowed to go into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Four ATF agents, in transcribed interviews with Issa’s office, are contradicting the Justice Department’s account of Operation Fast and Furious, saying hundreds of weapons – including assault rifles and military-grade sniper weapons – were allowed to escape into the clutches of Mexican drug cartels in a reckless investigative strategy. Their testimony raises the question of whether Ronald Weich, a deputy to Attorney General Eric Holder, lied to congressional investigators in a February 4, 2011, letter denying the allegations. Grassley said he had no proof whether AG Eric Holder or President Barack Obama were told about the existence of Fast and Furious. Said Grassley, “This is all the purpose of our oversight: number one, to make sure things like this don’t happen again, and number two, to make sure that whoever was involved in this is held responsible.”
Issa also said he is certain the Fast and Furious operation was known by most top officials at the Justice Department and that AG Eric Holder either knew and misled Congress, or was so out of the loop that he’s guilty of mismanagement. “How is it that the No. 2, 3, 4 at Justice all knew about this program, but the No. 1 didn’t?,” Issa said. “Is it because he said ‘don’t tell me’? Is it because they knew what they were doing is wrong, and they were protecting their boss? Or is it that Eric Holder is just so disconnected … ?” “Whichever it is – he knew and he’s lied to Congress, or he didn’t know, and he’s so detached that he wasn’t doing his job – that really probably is for the administration to make a decision on, sooner not later,” Issa said.
The Obama administration sought to intimidate witnesses into not testifying to Congress on Tuesday about whether ATF knowingly allowed weapons, including assault rifles, to be “walked” into Mexico. Darrell Issa said at least two scheduled witnesses expected to be asked about a controversial weapons investigation received warning letters from ATF to limit their testimony.
Congressional investigators say acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson told them documents he reviewed convinced him reports about gunwalking were true. Melson told investigators when he reviewed documents relating to one specific case, he found what he called “a smoking gun.” According to a partial transcript of Melson’s testimony to Congressional investigators, “interdiction could have occurred, and probably should have occurred, but did not occur.”
Where Are Investigations Going?
“He [Melson] was part of the bad judgment. And when I say bad judgment, it wasn’t just him,” Issa said. “They had to go to Justice to get money, to get FBI agents, all of the other people that helped coordinate this, and to get the wiretaps they used. This was a program so stupid from the start.”
Former El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) director Phil Jordan thinks this scandal goes as high as Attorney General Eric Holder. From his decades of law enforcement experience working with Washington-based Justice Department officials, Jordan said he’s sure this kind of program would have needed approval from either the Attorney General or one of his direct deputies. The revelations about Operation Fast and Furious keep getting worse. The Obama administration needs to start showing some accountability and providing answers. Which officials knew about the program and its failures is still a big question. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have denied knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious before this spring, and no one at the Justice Department – the ATF’s parent agency – has acknowledged a role in authorizing or running the program. Yet Operation Fast and Furious didn’t materialize out of nowhere. In the latest round of congressional hearings on the gun sting gone wrong, agents of ATF posted to Mexico City testified that they pleaded with their superiors in Washington to end the operation. “Hey, when are they going to shut this, to put it bluntly, damn investigation down?”
Investigations into a gunrunning sting gone wrong are getting closer to the top of the U.S. Justice Department and its head, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A congressional report released last month revealed that top DOJ officials knew about Operation Fast and Furious. “The Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation to ensure that blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department,” said Issa. “There are still many questions to be answered about what happened in Operation Fast and Furious and who else bears responsibility.”
Who Knew What When?
In June, 2011, President Obama said in a press conference: “My Attorney General has made clear that he wouldn’t have ordered gun running into Mexico. . . That would not be an appropriate step by the ATF.” He then deflected further questions, citing an “ongoing investigation.” Press secretary Jay Carney said that the President “did not know about or authorize this operation.” But as Heritage.org’s Rory Cooper wrote, “If that’s the case, how could neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder not know about an operation that everyone else at the Department of Justice seemed to be actively involved in, including the Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Attorney and head of the ATF?” Obama should take this seriously. And so should the American people. The ATF sold guns to criminals in Mexico, a life has been taken, and crimes have been committed with the weapons that were trafficked by the federal government. And yet questions remain under the Administration that called itself “the most transparent in history.”
The more I dig into it, the more I learn. As the old saying goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
But that’s just my opinion.