The federal courts have taken a dim view of executive privilege in recent years. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the assertion is invalid if a suspicion of governmental wrongdoing is involved. Five years ago, during the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration, a similar executive privilege claim aimed at blocking the testimony of several senior White House officials before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, reportedly for political reasons, was rejected by U.S. District Judge John Bates.
“Fast and Furious” was a gunwalking operation conducted by the ATF in Arizona from 2006 to 2011. Basically, the agency abandoned its practice of immediately confiscating illegally purchased arms and instead allowed licensed firearms dealers in the Tucson and Phoenix areas to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers – middle men who purchase guns in behalf of those prohibited from doing so themselves.
The ATF hoped that by permitting these purchases agents could track the firearms that were provided to the cartels, resulting in the arrest of high-level drug kingpins. The agency monitored about 2,000 straw sales but only slightly more than 700 were recovered. Agents lost track of about 1,400 weapons. No high-level cartel figure has been arrested.
Guns purchased under “Fast and Furious” have been found on both sides of the border separating the U.S. and Mexico. On Dec. 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed during a firefight while on patrol near the border. Two AK-47s found at the scene were linked to Fast and Furious. The operation, which drew criticism from several agents and gun dealers while it was active, was made public shortly thereafter.
One estimate places the number of Mexican citizens killed by Fast and Furious guns at 300.
On Jan. 29, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, one of the guns was located at the scene of a shooting that led to the death of Luis Lucio Rosales Astorga, the police chief in the city of Hostotipaquillo. Gunmen intercepted his patrol car and opened fire. A bodyguard was also killed. Astorga’s wife and a second bodyguard were wounded.
A semi-automatic WASR rifle, the firearm that killed the chief, was traced back to the Lone Wolf Trading Company, a gun store in Glendale, AZ, according to the Times. It was purchased on Feb. 22, 2010, about three months into the Fast and Furious operation, by 26-year-old Jacob A. Montelongo of Phoenix. He later pleaded guilty to conspiracy, making false statements and smuggling goods from the United States and was sentenced to 41 months in prison.
Court records show Montelongo personally obtained at least 109 firearms during Fast and Furious.
Issa’s committee isn’t the only organization seeking documents. Judicial Watch, a conservative foundation that promotes transparency in government, has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking access to the Fast and Furious records being withheld from Congress.
Justice refused to comply and has asked the court to stay proceedings while it deals with the committee’s civil contempt claim. Judicial Watch opposed the motion and is asking the court to address the issue.
“Getting beyond the Obama administration’s smokescreen, this lawsuit is about a very simple principle: the public’s right to know the full truth about an egregious political scandal that led to the death of at least one American and countless others in Mexico,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The American people are sick and tired of the Obama administration trying to rewrite FOIA law to protect this president and his appointees. Americans want answers about Fast and Furious killings and lies.”