Friday, July 22, 2011

ATF Director: “Mistakes Were Made.”

ATF Director: “Mistakes Were Made.”

During a July 4 interview with congressional investigators, the Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provided a wealth of information about the Justice Department’s response to the joint inquiry Representative Darrell Issa, the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and I are conducting about the ATF’s reckless tactics used in a policy known as Operation Fast and Furious.

The policy allowed guns to be sold to known straw purchasers who then transported the firearms to third parties, often, it turns out, ending in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.  Two guns found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry were part of this operation, and many more have been found at crime scenes in the United States and Mexico.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this week, Chairman Issa and I provided specific excerpts from the testimony our staff investigators received during the July 4 interview with ATF Acting Director Ken Melson.  Our goal in writing this letter was to clearly communicate with the Attorney General the serious allegations that were raised by Mr. Melson regarding both the Justice Department’s handling of our inquiry and the corroboration of other witness testimony about the possible involvement of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The letter also included excerpts from Mr. Melson’s interview where he indicated that the Justice Department had silenced the ATF from communicating with Congress and was focused on protecting political appointees.  So, the people who were closest to the problem and probably best knew the issues the agency was facing were muzzled from providing information to Congress.  It was alarming to hear how much posturing by the department went on, without any real knowledge about what was at stake.

In addition, Mr. Melson shared revelations that the Justice Department has not been completely forthcoming in providing to Congress important documents that would be helpful in our investigation, including a document Mr. Melson called a “smoking gun.”

It appears that the Justice Department treated our Fast and Furious inquiry as a public relations problem, rather than a legitimate topic in need of congressional oversight and corrective action.  It’s become abundantly clear that Mr. Melson was correct when he told us, “mistakes were made.”  Chairman Issa and I will continue working until the ATF and the Justice Department come clean about who was responsible and can assure us that these mistakes will never be made again.

Senator Grassley

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