For the second time in less than a month they are being accused of obstructing the Congressional inquiry into Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF operation which allowed Mexican drug cartels and convicted felons to obtain weapons. The purpose of these committee hearings is to discover how such a lame-brained scheme was allowed to proceed.
Today the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding hearings continuing its investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
According to Committee Chairman Issa, the Obama administration sought to intimidate witnesses into not testifying before his committee. Issa said at least two scheduled witnesses ”received warning letters from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to limit their testimony.
Issa made this revelation in an interview last night with the Washington Times.
But after receiving subpoenas, at least two of the agents got letters from ATF Associate Chief Counsel Barry S. Orlow warning them to keep certain areas off-limits, including those still under investigation. Neither of the targeted agents was identified.This is the second time, there have been charges of obstruction made against the Obama administration regarding the Fast and Furious scandal. On July 4th ATF Director Ken Melson testified before Darrell Issa's Committee. As a result of the meeting, Issa along with ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley fired off a letter about Melson's charge that he had been directed to obstruct the Congressional investigation.
Mr. Issa said at least one witness wanted to back out of testifying to his committee after receiving the letter, but the chairman declined that request. Instead he fired a letter back to William J. Hoover, deputy director of ATF, saying the “timing and content of this letter strongly suggest that ATF is obstructing and interfering with the congressional investigation.”
"If his account is accurate, then ATF leadership appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand," Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder. "That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation."
Issa told the Washington Times he is certain Fast and Furious was known about by most top officials at the Justice Department and that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. either knew and misled Congress, or was so out of the loop that he’s guilty of mismanagement.
“How is it that the No. 2, 3, 4 at Justice all knew about this program, but the No. 1 didn’t?,” Mr. Issa said. “Is it because he said ‘don’t tell me’? Is it because they knew what they were doing is wrong, and they were protecting their boss? Or is it that Eric Holder is just so disconnected … ?It will be interesting to see this play out, what can be stated as fact is that this was a misguided program which led to the death of at least one ATF Agent. We also know that as of today there are two separate distinct charges of obstruction of justice against this, the "most transparent" administration in American history.
“Whichever it is — he knew and he’s lied to Congress, or he didn’t know, and he’s so detached that he wasn’t doing his job — that really probably is for the administration to make a decision on, sooner not later,” Mr. Issa said.
In more Fast And Furious News Chairman Issa released a report that summarized what the committee has discovered so far (embedded below). The report found:
- In the fall of 2009, ATF officials in Mexico began noticing a spike in guns recovered at Mexican crime scenes. Many of those guns traced directly to an ongoing investigation out of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division.
- As Operation Fast and Furious progressed, there were numerous recoveries of large weapons caches in Mexico. These heavy-duty weapons included AK-47s, AR-15s, and even Barrett .50 caliber rifles – the preferred weapons of drug cartels.
- At a March 5, 2010 briefing, ATF intelligence analysts told ATF and DOJ leadership that the number of firearms bought by known straw purchasers had exceeded the 1,000 mark. The briefing also made clear these weapons were ending up in Mexico.
- ATF and DOJ leadership kept their own personnel in Mexico and Mexican government officials totally in the dark about all aspects of Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, ATF officials in Mexico grew increasingly worried about the number of weapons recovered in Mexico that traced back to an ongoing investigation out of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division.
- ATF officials in Mexico raised their concerns about the number of weapons recovered up the chain of command to ATF leadership in Washington, D.C. Instead of acting decisively to end Fast and Furious, the senior leadership at both ATF and DOJ praised the investigation and the positive results it had produced. Frustrations reached a boiling point, leading former ATF Attaché Darren Gil to engage in screaming matches with his supervisor, International Affairs Chief Daniel Kumor, about the need to shut down the Phoenix-based investigation.
- Despite assurances that the program would be shut down as early as March 2010, it took the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent in December 2010 to actually bring the program to a close.
- ATF officials in Mexico finally realized the truth: ATF allowed guns to walk. By withholding this critical information from its own personnel in Mexico, ATF jeopardized relations between the U.S. and Mexico.
- The high-risk tactics of cessation of surveillance, gunwalking, and non-interdiction of weapons that ATF used in Operation Fast and Furious went against the core of ATF’s mission, as well as the training and field experience of its agents. These flaws inherent in Operation Fast and Furious made its tragic consequences inevitable.
ATF 07-26-11 Report on Impact on Mexico 2