House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa indicated on August 23 that the five Department of Justice officials the committee held responsible for Operation Fast and Furious may face criminal charges.
Speaking with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, Issa discussed allegations that Deputy Assistant ATF Director William McMahon was “double-dipping,” drawing both a full-time salary from the ATF and a second full-time, six-figure salary from J.P. Morgan. The arrangement is suspicious, considering the controversy over McMahon’s role in Fast and Furious and the ATF’s persecution of whistleblowers who sought similar arrangements. J.P. Morgan was one of the Obama administration’s top donors in 2008 and was shielded by President Obama when it lost two billion dollars through poor investments. The close relationship between the administration and the concurrent salary for McMahon is a significant ethical conflict: it presents the appearance of the Obama administration using a prominent donor to funnel “hush money” to a highly placed official involved in a scandal, one which threatens President Obama and several cabinet officials.
While speaking of the controversy, Issa indicated that McMahon and other Fast and Furious co-conspirators would be referred for criminal prosecution:
“This is somebody who our reports said perjured himself before the Congress,” Issa charged. “We don’t understand why J.P. Morgan would hire somebody who’s lied to Congress, that will probably be referred for criminal prosecution.”
That could be taken as a good indicator that four other officials identified along with McMahon as culpable in a July 31 Joint Congressional Staff Report are also being looked at with legal action in mind, and a better indicator that what they can exchange in terms of information about higher-ups could mitigate their risks.
In addition to McMahon: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix field division William Newell, Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, Deputy Director William Hoover, and Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson could face criminal charges for the operation, which sent more than 2,000 guns to violent Mexican drug cartels and has been blamed for the deaths of more than 300 Mexican citizens. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and ICE Agent Jaime Zapata also were murdered with Fast and Furious guns. ICE Agent Victor Avila was seriously injured but survived the attack that killed Zapata.
The families of Terry and Zapata have filed wrongful death suits against the government because of the gunwalking operations, and Avila has joined the Zapata family’s suit.
Interestingly, the Zapata/Avila weapon was not technically a “Fast and Furious” weapon; it originated in one of two alleged Texas-based gunwalking plots. The two Texas gunwalking plots join other alleged gunwalking plots from across the country: the West and Southwest, Florida, the Carolinas, and the Midwest (where a plot dubbed “Gangwalker” based in Indiana may bear much of the blame for the out-of-control gun violence in Chicago) were all possible locations of other operations.
The goal of Fast and Furious and the other alleged plots was to manufacture evidence of gunrunning to justify more and stricter gun-control laws, which some Democrats called for during the Oversight Committee hearings.
If McMahon, Newell, Chait, and Hoover are charged, former Acting Director Ken Melson may also be charged, or perhaps his secret July 4, 2011, testimony without DOJ lawyers present could be used against the other ATF officials. Some have speculated that Melson’s testimony and documentation could be damning enough to catch his fellow ATF officials and Department of Justice higher-ups in lies that could result in additional charges against them. This could perhaps force them to plea bargain their knowledge of the details of the case in exchange for reduced charges or a reduced sentence.
The news of pending criminal charges and ethical violations comes at an interesting time. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz has completed his internal review of Operation Fast and Furious after taking over from acting Inspector General and former Eric Holder colleague Cynthia Schnedar. Horowitz has reportedly turned his findings over to Department of Justice “shot callers,” including Attorney General Holder.
Justice will reportedly “review” the report well into September, in what appears to be yet another instance of the Holder Department of Justice holding itself above the law.