Fast and furious cover-ups continue

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The Justice Department is still trying to cover up Operation Fast and Furious. Today two Members of Congress called them out on it.

What we know about Fast and Furious

Operation Fast and Furious technically means a program for “walking” guns into Mexico through the Phoenix, AZ office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). But Phoenix was not the only conduit. Other guns ran into Mexico, either directly or indirectly (through Honduras), from other ATF offices. They include Tampa, FL; Columbus, NM; and Houston, TX. Dan Freedman of The Houston Chronicle studied the paths of 1600 guns going into Mexico. (See his interactive map.) Of the several sites that those guns came from, the Houston ATF office looks like the worst offender.

Fast and Furious was part of a larger operation, called Gunrunner. DOJ billed Gunrunner as a project to run down and arrest gun traffickers. But Fast and Furious was a project to allow Mexican drug gangsters to buy many guns and carry them into Mexico. The DOJ says that it was supposed to track the guns. Neither they nor ATF tracked them very effectively. Last December, a US Border Patrol agent died in a gun battle—on the US side. Two of the guns that authorities recovered at the scene were Fast and Furious guns.

Kenneth Melson’s song

Kenneth Melson, acting ATF director. He is blowing the whistle on Operation Fast and Furious.

Kenneth Melson, acting ATF director and intended sacrificial lamb for Operation Fast and Furious, and now a confirmed whistleblower. Photo: BATFE.

ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson started reviewing Fast and Furious late in the game. What he found made him “sick to [his] stomach,” as he told Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). That he could tell Congress anything at all is only because someone finally advised him of something that DOJ had agreed to with Issa and Grassley long before. Namely, that anyone at the DOJ or any of its member agencies could talk to Congress on his own time, with his own lawyer present.

Melson talked to Issa and Grassley on July 4. By all accounts he sang whole arias; Placido Domingo could not have done better. The next day, Issa and Grassley sent this letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. In it he flatly accused Holder of “muzzling” Melson and other ATF men.

Holder wrote back the next day. He said that Issa and Grassley’s tone “puzzled” him. He denied every charge that Issa and Grassley made. He referred to another letter in which Issa and Grassley had praised a “breakthrough” in communications with the Department of Justice.

Today Issa and Grassley wrote back an even angrier letter.

The latest letter from Congress

Issa and Grassley are now angry clear through. They offered further details that Melson has shared with them. That includes this from Melson:

It [seems] thoroughly to us that the Department [of Justice] is really trying to figure out a way to push the information away from their political appointees at the Department.

In other words, to set up “fall guys” among career ATF officers, innocent civilians, or both.

More broadly, Issa and Grassley accuse Holder of:

  • Willfully withholding information from Congress. Among other things, they once wrote a patronizing letter to Grassley, saying that he was “only a ranking member” of his committee (Senate Judiciary).
  • Unwillingness to admit mistakes when “there were mistakes made.”
  • Wanting more to control damage to its reputation than to disclose information that Congress has legitimately asked for.
  • Releasing whispers that Melson was out as ATF director, and Andrew Traver was in. Traver runs the ATF Field Office in Chicago. He is also notorious for believing that none but LEOs should carry guns.
  • Ordering Melson not even to talk to those at ATF who reported to him.
  • Withholding documents that Congress has asked for. This includes failure to respond to repeated subpoenas.

The worst accusation was that DOJ might be holding a report that Melson describes as a “smoking gun.” Specifically, this report pointed directly at cases within Operation Fast and Furious, cases in which guns got across the border that shouldn’t have. Melson found it only after looking into allegations in a CBS News report, and earlier statements from Senator Grassley. At first they seemed too fantastic to be true. The “smoking gun” report suggests otherwise.

The DOJ is still withholding that report. Issa and Grassley want that report, and they want it now.

What else is happening?

Last Saturday, National Conservative Examiner Anthony G. Martin reported that an innocent gun dealer landed in jail, essentially after merely obeying the orders of ATF agents in Columbus, NM. Those orders were to allow straw buyers of guns to keep buying them. (Yes, this is also part of Fast and Furious, or something similar.) Now the authorities have offered him a plea deal: admit that he knew where those guns would go after they left his shop, and he gets out of jail. But that would be a lie. He did not know.

Today Martin reported on this article from the Las Cruces Sun-News of Columbus. The former mayor of Columbus was one of the straw buyers. He pleaded guilty to charges that he bought guns for Mexican drug cartels at that same shop.

This is of a piece with the DOJ trying to shift blame for Fast and Furious away from its political appointees. Are they trying to blame one gun-shop owner and one admittedly corrupt politician? Maybe. But how many gun-shop owners and city officials in Houston, TX will they have to send up the river in the same way? Not to mention the shredding party at the Tampa, FL ATF office.

Featured image: the Constitution of the United States. Photo: National Archives

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