Rep. Issa asks ATF for ‘Gunrunner’ documents
by Dave Workman
California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, appears ready to launch an investigation and hold hearings on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) controversial “Project Gunrunner” and “Operation Fast and Furious.”
In a letter to Acting ATF Director Kenneth E. Melson, Issa warned, “It has been brought to my attention that you are not cooperating with congressional inquiries about Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious.”
Issa’s document request suggests that he knows exactly what he is after. He set a deadline of March 30 for delivery of the requested materials.
Issa asked for files and documents “including e-mails, relating to communications regarding Operation Fast and Furious between ATF headquarters and Special Agent in Charge (SAC) William D. Newell, Assistant Special Agents in Charge (ASAC) Jim Needles and George Gillette, Group Supervisor David Voth, or any Case Agent from November 1, 2009 to the present.”
“The response to this request,” Issa wrote, “should include a memorandum, approximately 30 pages long, from SAC Newell to ATF headquarters following the arrest of Jaime Avila and the death of Agent Brian Terry.”
Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious allegedly allowed hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of firearms to get across the border into Mexico, while the suspects were under ATF investigation. During the operation, according to ATF whistleblowers, senior ATF officials allegedly told field agents to let the suspects “walk” from gun stores in Arizona, oftentimes carrying several firearms at a time. The Gunrunner investigation, according to documents obtained by Gun Week, apparently allowed at least two guns to get into the wrong hands because those firearms were recovered at the scene of a fatal shooting in which Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry was killed in December.
Prior to Issa’s inquiry, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa was also digging into the Gunrunner/Fast and Furious controversy. However, he complained to CBS News that the ATF and the Justice Department began stonewalling almost immediately. Grassley is ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sources at ATF have told Gun Week that the Fast and Furious operation has become a debacle, and one ATF agent, John Dodson, publicly told CBS News that ranking agency officials in Phoenix were warned that guns were being funneled to the wrong hands, but they continued the operation anyway.
When Gun Week attempted to interview ASAC Gillette, he abruptly ended the conversation and hung up the telephone.
The Project Gunrunner scandal erupted more than three months ago, primarily due to the work of National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea and independent blogger Mike Vanderboegh. They worked behind the scenes to connect confidential sources in the ATF with members of Grassley’s staff. In late February, CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson began reporting on the controversy, as did several other members of the nationwide Gun Rights Examiner team.
While not directly related, Gun Week obtained court documents that show one of the guns recovered at the scene of the murder of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata in northern Mexico in February came from a suspected gun smuggler in Texas. That man was arrested within days of the Zapata murder.
The whole Gunrunner/Fast and Furious controversy has taken on international proportions, according to CBS News, and the US Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual has resigned.
In recent weeks, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has said in public he didn’t trust Pascual. Several sources close to diplomatic circles inside Mexico told CBS News that from Mexico’s viewpoint, the ATF “gunwalking” scandal was the final straw in a series of controversies that led to the abrupt resignation of Pascual.
First, Pascual has been dating the daughter of a mistrusted and alleged cartel-linked opposition legislator, CBS reported.
Second, Pascual’s critical views of Mexico in secret US diplomatic cables were leaked on WikiLeaks several weeks ago. In one cable, Pascual said Mexico had turned a blind eye to US leads on how to capture drug lords.
Some Mexican legislators have publicly said ATF agents who crafted and carried out the “gunwalking” strategy could be extradited to Mexico and arrested.
And CBS News’ Attkisson now has another ATF agent “whistleblower.”
ATF Special Agent Rene Jaquez, who has been stationed south of El Paso, TX, for the past year, told CBS News he was alarmed to hear his own agency may have encouraged US gun dealers to sell to suspected traffickers for Mexico’s drug cartels.
According to CNS News, Jaquez is so opposed to the strategy, he’s speaking out. “You don’t let guns walk. I’ve never let a gun walk.”
He said in the CBS videotaped interview that “I was ordered to let US guns into Mexico.”
According to the CBS report, ATF wasn’t working alone on the case known as “Fast and Furious.” The network said documents show ATF had conference calls with “DHS” (Homeland Security). “USMS” (US Marshals) and DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency. An “ICE,” or Customs agent, was on ATF’s Fast and Furious team. They were advised by an “AUSA” (Assistant US Attorney) under the Justice Department.
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