Thursday, October 27, 2011

Napolitano Grilled Over ‘Fast and Furious,’ Likens Hearing to Cross Examination

By Mike Levine

Published October 26, 2011 |

House Republicans on Wednesday turned their sharp questioning over "Operation Fast and Furious" toward Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who acknowledged her agents were twice told to "stand down" in deference to what she called a "very troublesome" operation.

Napolitano, at one point likening the questioning to a cross-examination, said repeatedly she only learned of "Fast and Furious" after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December. She emphasized the operation, conceived and run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "was an ATF operation," under the auspices of the Justice Department, not her department.

Still, during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, outspoken Republicans wanted to know why she didn't press for more answers in the wake of Terry's death, and they called on her to meet more regularly with her Justice Department counterparts, suggesting more frequent discussions could help prevent incidents like Terry's murder.

Napolitano said she has never spoken with Attorney General Eric Holder about "Fast and Furious," a revelation Republicans strongly criticized.

"There needs to be better communication, so somebody can say, 'Whoa! This is a crazy idea, you're giving guns to drug smugglers that are going to come back and be used?" said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Holder, however, has said he was not aware of "Fast and Furious" -- or at least its controversial details -- until after concerns were raised publicly. And, in a letter to lawmakers three weeks ago, he said that while "some senior officials" within the department knew of an operation called "Fast and Furious," they "were not advised of the unacceptable operational tactics being used in it."

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, Napolitano said one reason she hasn't spoken to Holder directly about "Fast and Furious" is that the Justice Department's inspector general is currently engaged in an investigation into the matter, and she said she wouldn't know details about "Fast and Furious" because it "was an ATF operation."

Napolitano warned lawmakers not to "rush to judgment here," but she said there "will be lessons learned from this, and there very well may be changes in the field as a result of this."

Launched in late 2009, "Fast and Furious" hoped to target major gun-runners in Arizona by following gun purchasers to senior-level officials within Mexican cartels. But high-powered weapons tied to the investigation ended up at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States, including that of Terry's murder.

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