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Gunwalker: Friday ‘Document Dump’ Reveals Justice Dept. Misled Congress

The DOJ is now officially withdrawing a February 2011 letter sent to Senator Charles Grassley.

by
Patrick Richardson

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December 5, 2011 - 9:09 am
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On Friday, the Justice Department released nearly 1,400 pages of documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed more than 2,000 guns to “walk” into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. (The “Friday document dump” is a tactic used to keep controversial issues from dominating the news cycle during the week.)

According to the Associated Press:

[The Justice Department] provided Congress with documents detailing how department officials gave inaccurate information to a U.S. senator in the controversy surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed law enforcement initiative aimed at dismantling major arms trafficking networks on the Southwest border.

Note that AP refers to the Operation simply as being “flawed,” and as being a legitimate attempt to disrupt arms trafficking.

The most notable information in the release: DOJ is now taking the unusual step of withdrawing a letter it had sent to Congress, admitting the letter contained “inaccurate” information.” NPR reports:

Under fire for losing track of weapons that turned up at crime scenes along the Southwest border, the Justice Department has taken the extraordinary step of formally withdrawing an inaccurate letter about the episode that it sent to Congress earlier this year.

The letter — sent last February to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — claimed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had not sanctioned the sale of firearms to straw purchasers. The letter also claimed ATF made every effort to recapture weapons which had been purchased illegally. These statements had been previously refuted, but the ATF and DOJ had continued to stand behind them prior to Friday.

According to AP:

[The letter was] responding to Grassley’s statements that the Senate Judiciary Committee had received allegations the ATF had sanctioned the sale of hundreds of assault weapons to suspected straw purchasers. Grassley also said there were allegations that two of the assault weapons had been used in a shootout that killed customs agent Brian Terry.

Just four days after Grassley’s assertions, then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke — whose office was overseeing parts of Fast and Furious — sent an email to colleagues stating:

“Grassley’s assertions regarding the Arizona investigation and the weapons recovered” at the “murder scene are based on categorical falsehoods. I worry that ATF will take eight months to answer this when they should be refuting its underlying accusations right now.”

Also according to AP:

That email marked the start of an internal debate in the Justice Department over what and how much to say in response to Grassley’s allegations. The fact that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into Terry’s murder prompted some at the Justice Department to argue for less disclosure.

AP reports the DOJ inspector general is now investigating where Burke got the inaccurate information. Is it possible that — like Special Agent William Newell of the ATF — Burke simply lied? This, NPR notes, could be a problem for Burke:

Misleading Congress can be a prosecutable offense if a person who makes the statements knows they are false. But Attorney General Eric Holder has told lawmakers that so far he has no evidence anyone intended to deceive them. The matter remains under investigation not only by Republicans in Congress but also the Justice Department’s inspector general.

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