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by
Patrick Richardson

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June 13, 2011 - 9:25 am

On June 13 the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will be taking up the Operation Gunrunner/Operation Fast and Furious fiasco once again.

This is the operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives apparently allowed thousands of firearms, including Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, across the border in hopes of tracking them and arresting so-called “big fish.” What they caught were minnows.

According to Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R.-Calif) the Justice Department has repeatedly refused to cooperate with his committee’s investigation and has gone as far as to refuse to reply to subpoenas for documents related to the case. In an interview on the Roger Hedgecock Show in April of this year, Issa said DOJ refused to comply with Congressional requests, because to do so would interfere with an ongoing investigation, an assertion Issa said was absurd in an April 20 letter to ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson. DOJ was investigating drug and gun traffickers and the committee was investigation DOJ at the time.

Issa has called in several legal experts to testify to whether or not DOJ can refuse to comply with a Congressional subpoena. This will be the first of two hearings on Operation Fast and Furious that week. At 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday, the committee will speak to family members of late border agent Brian Terry, who was murdered with a weapon linked to the ATF operation; as well as Special Agents Olindo James Casa, Peter Forcelli, and John Dodson, all of the ATF Phoenix Field Division office in Phoenix, Ariz., where the operation took place; as well as Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich.

In a release Issa remained incensed about the failed operation which would appear to have cost the life of Terry, and also Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata:

“The reckless decisions of ATF and Justice Department officials in Operation Fast and Furious have devastated lives and put fear into communities on both sides of the border,” Issa said. “By exploring this Justice Department sanctioned program, we can better understand the flawed process surrounding the genesis and implementation of an operation that put guns into the hands of criminals.”

Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee and who will also be testifying, presumably to what his own investigations have turned up, have both been investigating this case since it came on the radar earlier this year.

In early May both had the opportunity to grill Attorney General Eric Holder, who claimed the first he or the president had heard of the pair of operations which had the potential to affect the already strained relations between the U.S. and Mexico was when CBS News reported on the case.

In a strongly worded letter sent earlier this year Issa and Grassley (R-Iowa) essentially accused Holder of lying to Congress:

In its latest denial, the Department seems to focus more on whether ATF knew guns were being trafficked to Mexico than whether the ATF knew they were being purchased by straw buyers. While it might be typical in Washington for lawyers to narrowly parse statements and argue over fine distinctions to confuse the issue, those are not the kind of answers that we believe the Justice Department should give to Congress when asked straightforward questions about such a serious matter as this one.

We are extremely disappointed that you do not appear to be taking this issue seriously enough to ensure that the Department’s representations are accurate, forthcoming and complete. We will continue to probe and gather the facts independently as it has become clear we cannot rely on the Department’s self-serving statements to obtain any realistic picture of what happened.

Grassley went so far as to pen a hand-written postscript under his signature block:

PS: You should check to see if you are getting accurate information from your staff. You might be ill-served.

The hearings will be interesting to say the least. One hopes something will come from them, but with the “most transparent administration in history” in power one suspects Issa and Grassley will continue to face an opaque wall of obfuscation and carefully parsed sentences.

Patrick Richardson has been a journalist for almost 15 years and an inveterate geek all his life. He blogs regularly at www.otherwheregazette.com, which aims to be like another SF magazine, just not so serious.
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