House committee suspects ‘Fast and Furious’ cover-up
by JERRY SEPER
June 22, 2012
According to the committee, it has "not only a right, but an obligation" to do all it can to examine the department's suspected mismanagement in its response to the unusual program that put thousands of guns in the hands of Mexico's violent drug cartels.
The committee said it is concerned about and wants to see documents outlining continued complaints by whistleblowers that they faced retaliation after testifying about the program; allegations by the former acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that Justice Department officials sought to protect political appointees; and the nine-month delay before the department formally withdrew its false denial to Congress about allowing guns to flow over the border to Mexico.
In a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Mr. Grassley, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said the department did not allow guns to be "walked" to drug smugglers in Mexico during Fast and Furious.
Mr. Weich, who resigned last week, said whistleblower accusations that ATF allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them to Mexico were "false," adding that the agency "makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico."
The Justice Department retracted that letter in December, with Mr. Holder saying Mr. Weich did not know the information he had provided was inaccurate. In a Dec. 2 letter, the department formally withdrew the Weich denial and acknowledged that Fast and Furious was "fundamentally flawed."
Refused a subpoena
The Justice Department has taken the position that it will not share internal deliberations related to Fast and Furious that occurred after the Weich letter. In March, Mr. Weich refused a congressional subpoena for Fast and Furious documents, saying the department was concerned that information in them had been and would be released to the media. He said news stories at the time "impeded the department's efforts to hold individuals accountable for their illegal acts."
The department also maintains that the program was created by an ATF regional office to see whether it could track weapons illegally sold in the U.S. to drug smugglers in Mexico. Eighteen months ago - well into the operation - weapons purchased by straw buyers in Fast and Furious were found at the site of the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry.
But the committee, according to a May 3 memo, does not believe Fast and Furious was "a local effort," describing it as the Justice Department's "flagship arms trafficking investigation for a year and a half." The memo said the department's Washington headquarters approved it as part of its Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program that put it under the control of the Arizona U.S. attorney's office.
The memo said the OCDETF designation meant Fast and Furious was able to use advanced investigative techniques, such as wiretaps, which by law required senior department officials in Washington to review operational details.