Gunwalker: Justice Dept. Inspector General Opens Investigation
The IG is looking into charges of illegal retaliation against the ATF whistleblowers.
July 22, 2011 - 12:00 am
Operation Fast and Furious — and other alleged “gunwalker” programs — only ended when whistleblowers came forward from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after a firefight in Rio Rico, Arizona, left Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry dead.
NPR – yes, NPR – is now reporting that the Department of Justice inspector general is launching an investigation into whether or not the DOJ illegally retaliated against one of the agents that revealed the gunwalking plot:
The Justice Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation into possible retaliation against a whistleblowing agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to two people briefed on the inquiry.
Watchdogs are examining whether anyone at the Justice Department improperly released internal correspondence to try to smear ATF agent John Dodson, who told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month that he repeatedly warned supervisors about what he called a reckless law enforcement operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
The inspector general is attempting to determine if Obama’s Justice Department leaked one of Dodson’s internal memos to reporters in order to discredit him.
Senator Charles Grassley has warned the Department of Justice repeatedly not to attack whistleblowers, apparently with little effect:
“I’ve warned the administration several times not to retaliate against the whistle-blowers who speak to Congress,” Grassley wrote in an email to NPR Thursday. “Unfortunately, there are indications that the administration leaked Privacy Act-protected documents to the press in an effort to discredit Mr. Dodson with half-truths even though those documents had been withheld from Congress. It’s a very serious matter that should be thoroughly investigated.”
The Justice Department has been ruthless in dealing with the whistleblowers, who have blown the lid off an operation that saw the director-level involvement of every law enforcement entity within the DOJ, in addition to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and likely the State Department.
In addition to retaliating against Dodson, the DOJ stands accused of firing 30-year ATF Agent Vince Cefalu for his role in bringing this and other illegal operations to light at a website he helped found: CleanUpATF.org.
Cefalu ran afoul of the DOJ for criticizing the ATF for previous questionable operations, but his termination seems to have been in response to his stating that those government entities that participated in Gunwalker should be tried as criminals for conspiring to traffic in firearms.
Cefalu also claims that an Obama administration meme that large-scale gun smuggling operations were supplying the cartels was false, which likely drew even more scrutiny.
In addition to allegations that the DOJ participated in attempting to smear and fire ATF whistleblowers, the Department stands accused of trying to stonewall congressional oversight investigations into Operation Fast and Furious — first by stopping Acting ATF Director Ken Melson from testifying at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about what he knew of the operation:
The Justice Department blocked senior ATF leaders from cooperating with Congress in its investigation of the “Fast and Furious” weapons operation, ordering them not to respond to questions and taking full control of replying to briefing and document requests, the agency’s top boss told congressional investigators.
Kenneth E. Melson, the embattled acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told Senate Judiciary Committee and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigators during a secret interview designed to circumvent Justice Department attorneys that he was “sick to his stomach” when he learned about problems with the controversial operation.
Melson was eventually told by Congressman Darrell Issa’s office that he did not have to testify with DOJ attorneys present. Once he was “free” of DOJ lawyers, he gave direct testimony to congressional investigators with only his own private lawyer present and without DOJ minders, much to the dismay of his superiors.
To date, not all of Melson’s testimony has been released — it is apparently being withheld in a game of high stakes brinkmanship as Issa and Grassley face down a recalcitrant administration.
Acting DOJ Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar would be wise to keep the results of her investigations into the alleged Dodson leak, Fast and Furious, and any other gunrunning investigations that may develop for as long as is practically possible. As Gerald Walpin discovered the hard way, the Obama administration isn’t kind to inspector generals that are determined to do their jobs.