Belmont Club

Hold My Beer

Darrell Issa’s letter to Eric Holder summarizing the testimony of acting ATF head Kenneth Melson appears to suggest the Attorney General has been less than candid with Congress about Operation Fast and Furious, aka Gunwalker.  Gunwalker is the name for an ATF program which sold guns to known “straw purchasers” or cartel front-men in order to trace the guns to Mexico. The trouble was the masterminds who bought the guns were already known to US law enforcement. Worse, the guns were lost to the control of Mexican thugs who went on to rampage through Mexico and US border areas, eventually killing Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

When the full extent of the fiasco became known it became clear that someone was going to have to take responsibility for the carnage. Kenneth Melson appeared to have been offered up as a sacrificial lamb, but the lamb declined to be led to the slaughter. He opted instead to spill the beans before Congress, stating in no uncertain terms that he had been told to shut up by the DOJ. The Wall Street Journal summarized the gist of Melson’s testimony. He claims that he didn’t know the full extent of what was going on until it started to blow up in his face. “The head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told congressional investigators he wasn’t aware of details of a troubled gun-running probe until after controversy erupted over the program, as he pushed back against efforts to blame him for the scandal and oust him from his job.” Issa’s letter basically accuses the DOJ of keeping Congress in the dark and setting up Melson to take the fall.

The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities. While this is preliminary information, we must find out if there is any truth to it. According to Acting Director Melson, he became aware of this startling possibility only after the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the indictments of the straw purchasers, which we now know were substantially delayed by the u.s. Attorney’s Office and Main Justice. Mr. Melson provided documents months ago supporting his concerns to the official in the ODAG responsible for document production to the Committees, but those documents have not been provided to us.

It is one thing to argue that the ends justify the means in an attempt to defend a policy that puts building a big case ahead of stopping known criminals from getting guns. Yet it is a much more serious matter to conceal from Congress the possible involvement of other agencies in identifying and maybe even working with the same criminals that Operation Fast and Furious was trying to identify.

In the last few weeks, unnamed administration officials have indicated to the press that Acting Director Melson would be forced to resign. According to Mr. Melson, those initial reports were untrue. … However, two days after he told Acting Deputy Attorney General Cole about serious issues involving lack of information sharing, the Wall Street Journal reported that unnamed sources said that Melson was about to be ousted. …

Any decision about Mr. Melson’s future with the Department would need to be justified solely on the basis of the facts and the needs of the agency, rather than on his decision to speak to us. … For now, the Office of Inspector General is still conducting its review, and we are still conducting ours. Knowing what we know so far, we believe it would be inappropriate to make Mr. Melson the fall guy in an attempt to prevent further congressional oversight.

So far the media has been keeping the story below the fold. But  some Mexican lawmakers have asked their government to begin extradition proceedings against American officials who approved the Fast and Furious gun sales program that allegedly killed hundreds of Mexicans, including law enforcement officials, politicians not to mention civilians.  Nobody knows where the guns have gone.  There exists the possibility that some high profile murder, mass execution or political crime will occur with weapons derived from “Fast and Furious”. But the administration is controlling the information tightly. Issa’s letter to Holder said Melson had been directed by the Justice Department “not to respond” to inquiries about the program and this was irregular and deceptive practice.

According to Mr. Melson, he and ATF’s senior leadership team moved to reassign every manager involved in Fast and Furious, from the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations down to the Group Supervisor, after learning the facts in those documents. Mr. Melson also said he was not allowed to communicate to Congress the reasons for the reassignments. He claimed that ATF’s senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process. However, he said that Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress. The result is that Congress only got the parts of the story that the Department wanted us to hear. If his account is accurate, then ATF leadership appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand. That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation. The Department’s inability or unwillingness to be more forthcoming served to conceal critical information that we are now learning about the involvement of other agencies, including the DEA and the FBI.

What the DOJ will do is a matter of speculation. Eric Holder may in the end simply choose to ignore Congress and dare them to do their worst. Or they may take the offensive. Two Democratic Congressmen argue that the river of guns originating from the US is the principal reason for Mexican lawlessness, to which the answer was tighter restrictions on gun sales. Yes, the admitted that the ATF may have made mistakes, but it was important to see the “broader picture”.

Two congressional Democrats, fresh from a trip to Mexico City, plan to propose tighter restrictions on gun trafficking to combat illegal U.S. sales that they say may supply 80% of the arsenals of Mexican drug cartels.

“These reforms are essential to help law enforcement to stop guns from getting into the hands of the world’s most dangerous criminals,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said Thursday at a congressional forum on gun trafficking. …

Cummings and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said that although the investigation into Fast and Furious was “very important,” they were looking for solutions to the broader problems of gun trafficking in Mexico. In an accompanying report released by Cummings, the Democrats said authorities from the Mexican federal police had told them that as many as 80% of the weapons recovered at Mexican crime scenes are traced to the United States.

John D. Feeley, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Mexico, warned that weapons trafficking was fueling “warlike activities” by the cartels, the report said. It also quoted the former ATF attache in Mexico, Darren Gil, as saying: “Without a doubt, the majority of weapons that we’re recovering come from the U.S.”

By reframing the debate the administration may succeed in transforming Gunwalker from an example of government incompetence to a demonstration of how easy it is to supply guns to cartels if you are the ATF being ordered to do things that you loathe and are ordered not to talk about.

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