Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is planning to issue a number of subpoenas to federal officials with ties to the controversial program, which was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
The move by Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, comes on the tail end of a series of interviews with government officials and witnesses that the panel’s investigators conducted last month. Sources said the interviews produced a plethora of new evidence and information regarding who gave the ultimate go-ahead for ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation.
“Fast and Furious” was part of the five-year-old Gunrunner program. It authorized local U.S. gun stores to sell thousands of semiautomatic rifles to suspected and known straw-purchasers for Mexican drug cartels.
By allowing people to illegally purchase large quantities of the weapons from gun dealers, officials hoped to trace the firearms to the upper ranks of the drug cartels and prosecute them. But ATF whistleblowers allege that officials lost track of the guns.
Two of the guns from the operation were found at the scene of an Arizona gun battle in December between U.S. law enforcement and members of a drug gang. The firefight killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, but officials have not revealed whether the bullet that struck him came from the guns the ATF was supposed to be tracking.
In addition, guns from the Fast and Furious operation might have been used in an attack on a Mexican government helicopter that was grounded after being fired upon by suspected members of a drug cartel two weeks ago, according to a Monday news report by CBS.
The subpoenas, which Issa said will be issued to key Washington-based government officials with ties to the operation, are slated to serve as a launching pad for a new series of hearings on the matter.
Issa has been critical of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees the ATF, for not turning over all of the documents he’s requested and not making available all of the officials he’s wanted to interview, sometimes citing ongoing gun-tracking investigations and prosecutions.
“We have a slew of subpoenas we expect to be issuing for people here in Washington,” Issa said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday.
“What we haven’t gotten one bit of is — here in Washington, far away from the actual investigation and prosecutions that they seem to be using as a façade to protect them — here in Washington, they’re not making one agent available, one hierarchy available, and we will be issuing subpoenas because we have to,” Issa said.
Next Monday the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Obstruction of Justice: Does the Justice Department Have to Respond to Lawfully Issued and Valid Congressional Subpoena?”
Committee aides have not released a witness list yet, but confirmed that this was the first of several hearings on the matter.
Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have led the congressional hunt for more information about the ATF operation and its approval. The lawmakers have said repeatedly that they are being “stonewalled” by DOJ.
Grassley — who does not have the same subpoena power as Issa — has vowed to hold up President Obama’s nominations in the Senate until he gets the documents and information that he has requested on the operation.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Fast and Furious operation was first brought to his attention sometime around April. He quickly launched an Inspector General (IG) investigation into the matter earlier this year, and has deferred many questions about the operation until that probe is complete.
“The inspector general will be looking at who exactly was involved, what the level of knowledge was, who should be held accountable, if in fact there were mistakes that were made,” Holder said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in May.
“Under no circumstances in any investigation that we bring should guns be allowed to be distributed in an uncontrolled manner,” Holder said.
The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, Issa subpoenaed the DOJ for documents relating to the operation. The day before Holder was set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, the DOJ sent over about 20 percent of the requested documents and told the committee that the remaining documents — about 400 pages — could be made available for review, but could not be handed over to the committee because of their sensitivity.
There is still a large cache of requested documents that the DOJ has not produced for the committee.