On June 15, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, held another hearing into the failed “Operation Fast and Furious” program, which has also been dubbed the “Gunwalker” scandal. “Gunwalker” allowed literally thousands of weapons to walk across the border into Mexico.
The guns, which included semi-automatic AK-47 variants and Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, were purchased by straw buyers in Arizona, who then allegedly passed them on to Mexican drug cartels.
Issa issued subpoenas to the Department of Justice several months ago, demanding to know exactly who had authorized a program he called “felony stupid.”
At least two of the firearms the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) allowed to walk were found at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, whose family testified earlier in the week.
To date, DoJ has refused to comply with those requests, citing an ongoing investigation.
This is an assertion Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) both claim is false.
In a sharply worded letter earlier this year, Issa and Grassley, who is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said such an excuse for failing to comply with a Congressional subpoena might hold if the committee and DoJ were conducting concurrent investigations. But they pointed out that Congress is investigating DoJ, not gun traffickers.
In the meantime, the ATF and DoJ have both maintained no guns were allowed to walk, which was refuted by testimony during the hearing.
“We monitored as they purchased handguns, AK-47 variants and .50 caliber rifles, almost daily at times,” said John Dodson, an ATF special agent in Phoenix, during his testimony. “Rather than conduct any enforcement actions, we took notes, we recorded observations, we tracked movements of these individuals, we wrote reports but nothing more.”
As whistleblowers continue to blow up the idea that this was a well organized operation with good oversight, even the White House is perpetuating the myth that DoJ is cooperating with the investigation.
In a White House press briefing on Friday, ABC News’ Jake Tapper had this exchange with White House press secretary Jay Carney:
TAPPER: Does the administration or the president have any personal reaction to the investigative report from the House investigative committee upon the fast — the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” program and all the blowback from the operation?
CARNEY: Well, I don’t have anything specific like a quote from the president. I can tell you that, as the president has already said, he did not know or — about or authorize this operation. But the Department of Justice has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border, including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico, has been and is a priority of the department.
The attorney general has also made clear that he takes the allegations that have been made — or raised, rather – very seriously, and that is why he has asked the inspector general to investigate the matter. It is also why you see the department cooperating with the Oversight Committee. So this investigation is ongoing and I really can’t comment beyond that.
TAPPER: Has the president heard from the Mexican authorities about it?
CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I believe the president made a comment about this that I was just referencing when the Mexican president was here.
TAPPER: Did he say something then?
CARNEY: So I don’t — I mean, I — it certainly came up in that room when it was —
TAPPER: No — but I mean specifically this week, with the — with the report being issued.
CARNEY: I don’t believe so. I’m not aware of any conversation like that.
PJM asked sources close to the committee about this assertion that the administration was cooperating with the investigation and was told this was manifestly not the case.
“That’s saying something we’ve been very clear about since the beginning is not the case,” one source said. “They have not complied with our subpoena. The only reason we have the information we do and know what we know is because ATF whistleblowers came forward. If it was up to the Department of Justice, we wouldn’t have nearly the information we do now.”
It was also made clear that Issa is not backing off on this investigation.
“This is just the beginning,” a source said.
So much for the most transparent administration in history.
It’s also becoming increasingly clear that the administration would like to find someone to take the fall.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kenneth Melson, acting director of ATF, could be ousted by DoJ as early as next week.
Emails released during the hearing show Melson was intimately involved in managing the operation, which had both ATF agents and gun dealers worried.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder continue to maintain that they knew nothing about an operation which had potential international repercussions until CBS broke the story in February.
Whatever the truth, and it’s possible we will never know how high up this actually goes, it does strain credulity to believe that at the very least Holder was unaware of the operation.
It all comes back to the age-old questions: Who knew what, and when did they know it? Holder also needs to explain why his department continues to stonewall legitimate Congressional inquiry.