In a blockbuster development in the Operation Fast & Furious gun-running scandal, Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson secretly testified before House and Senate investigators on July 4 with his own personal lawyer present, former United States Attorney Richard Cullen, without the knowledge of the ATF or the Department of Justice.
This morning, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley released a copy of a letter they sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on July 5 about Melson’s testimony. Melson’s revelations raise even more serious issues not only about the operation itself, but about apparent attempts by the Justice Department to mislead Congress on the details of the operation.
Contrary to the Justice Department’s denials, according to Melson, ATF agents specifically witnessed transfers of weapons from straw purchasers to third parties without taking any further action. Melson claimed that it was not until the public disclosure of the operation that he personally reviewed the “hundreds of documents” related to the case. He said he became “sick to his stomach” when he learned the full story. Even more shocking is that some of the “gun trafficking ‘higher-ups’ that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants” by agencies such as the FBI and the DEA.
Melson provided detailed information and documents to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General at the Justice Department. But that information was not given to Congress by then-Acting Deputy Attorney General James Cole. In fact, “Melson was not allowed to communicate to Congress” and “Justice Department officials directed [ATF’s senior leadership] not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress.” According to the letter Issa and Grassley sent to Holder, it was “two days after [Melson] told [Cole] about serious issues involving lack of information sharing” that the Wall Street Journal suddenly reported that Melson was about to be ousted by the Obama administration.
In fact, Melson told the Justice Department’s acting inspector general about the possible role of the DEA and the FBI in April and specifically informed Acting Deputy Attorney General Cole on June 16. Yet Cole was not confirmed as the deputy attorney general until June 28 — and only after Senator Grassley agreed to lift his objection to Cole because Justice agreed to allow oversight into Operation Fast & Furious. But it seems obvious that at the time Grassley made this agreement with the Justice Department, neither Cole nor anyone else at Justice had told Grassley about the vital information it was withholding, particularly the possible involvement of the FBI and the DEA.
The details of Operation Fast & Furious just keep getting worse from the standpoint of prosecutorial ineptitude and incompetence. But with Melson’s testimony, it is also appears that the Justice Department and specifically Deputy Attorney General James Cole have been obstructing Congress and engaging in a cover-up to prevent Congress and the public from finding out just how much the leadership of the Justice Department was involved in this expanding scandal.