Attorney General Eric Holder continues to duck responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed more than 2,500 weapons, including thousands of AK-47 variants and .50 caliber sniper rifles, across the Mexican border and into the hands of the cartels. The weapons were used to murder Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and an estimated 150 Mexican nationals.
In May of this year, Holder was called to testify in front of Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to answer questions about the program — which Holder claimed he’d first heard of in the media.
Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-IA), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have been complaining for months now that the Department of Justice has been obstructing the investigation, to the degree of possible witness tampering.
Holder’s Justice Department finally responded to a letter from Issa and Grassley. But according to a new letter from them, Holder is merely continuing to obfuscate, a fact underscored by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Acting Director Ken Melson initially being prevented from briefing or testifying to Congress, as his eventual personal testimony states.
According to the latest release from Issa and Grassley:
“It was very frustrating to all of us, and it appears thoroughly to us that the Department is really trying to figure out a way to push the information away from their political appointees at the Department,” ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson said of his frustration with the Justice Department’s response to the investigation in a transcribed interview.
Indeed, Melson’s testimony makes it clear he feared the consequences of not coming clean from the beginning, as Issa and Grassley state in their letter:
[A]fter receiving [Senator Grassley's initial] letter, our first instinct and intuition was to directly march over to Senator Grassley’s office and brief him on what Fast and Furious was for purposes of explaining the concept and the role it played and how it got there, and where ATF was going in it. And we expressed that desire to the [Deputy Attorney General]‘s office.
The DOJ did not permit Mr. Melson to brief Senator Grassley. Instead, the Department devised a strategy to withhold information from the senator. Mr. Melson testified further:
I sat in [the office of the Associate Deputy Attorney General with responsibility for ATF] one day when they were writing the letter to Senator Grassley about him being only a ranking member and not the chair of the committee. I sat there across the desk from [him], as I recall, and said, this is really just poking [Senator Grassley] in the eye. What’s the sense of doing this? Even if you say you can’t give it to him, he’s going to get it through the back door anyhow, so why are we aggravating this situation.
Congress had demanded answers as far back as February 10, and was possibly lied to in an open hearing:
Instead of providing Congress answers from the individuals best-positioned to provide them, Mr. Melson and his staff were muzzled. The decision to withhold information at the earliest sign of congressional interest set the Justice Department on a course that required Congress to aggressively pursue testimony and documents elsewhere. As you now know, this was entirely avoidable. The Department’s leadership chose to protect its own interests at the expense of exposing the leadership of a subordinate agency to Congressional scrutiny.
While Congress waited, ATF’s senior leaders examined how and why Fast and Furious happened. Mr. Melson and his staff identified institutional problems. They concluded that the Phoenix Field Division needed new supervision and reassigned every manager involved in Fast and Furious. Mr. Melson wanted to share this important development with Congress to show that ATF was taking the allegations seriously. The Department resisted. Mr. Melson observed that “[t]he [Deputy Attorney General's] office wasn’t very happy with us, because they thought this was an admission that there were mistakes made. Well, there were some mistakes made.” (Emphasis in original)