A scandal is brewing in Washington, D.C.
The Obama administration is apparently stonewalling a congressional investigation of Project Gunrunner, a federal arms trafficking sting operation which may have played a role in the murder of border agent, Brian Terry.
Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, isn't going to allow the administration to keep the details of an Project Gunrunner under wraps. The project, begun in 2009, was an effort by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) officials allowing straw buyers to purchase weapons in the United States and illegally ship them to Mexico. According the the ATF, the goal of Project Gunrunner was to track the flow of weapons into Mexico in order to bring down the major drug cartels involved in gun trafficking. In a March 16 letter to Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson, Mr. Issa requested information, including specifics about an Arizona-based component known as "Fast and Furious," which led to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. He gave the agency until last Wednesday to comply. They failed to respond, so Mr. Issa issued a subpoena.
When one considers what is already known about this debacle, ATF's refusal to respond is understandable. To begin with, Agent Terry's death was the direct result of a policy that can best be described as political correctness taken to the extreme: the first line of defense used by border patrol agents against those attempting to cross illegally is beanbags. Seriously. Beanbag guns were what Agent Terry and his fellow squad members were armed with when they encountered a group of illegals armed with assault rifles. When the illegals were ordered to drop their weapons, they refused. Terry's squad fired at them with bean bags. They fired back with real bullets. Agent Terry was killed.
But it doesn't stop there. It turns out that the weapons used by the illegals to murder Mr. Terry were traced back to "Project Gunrunner." According to Federal Agent and principle whistleblower John Dodson, he and other border agents were ordered to allow guns to be "walked" into Mexico, as part of the aforementioned effort to build big cases against Mexican drug cartels. Incredibly, Mexican authorities were left completely in the dark regarding the operation.
But who gave the order? This is where the case promises to be explosive. Last week, president Obama, in an interview with a Univision reporter, claimed neither he nor U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had any previous knowledge of the operation. "Absolutely not," said the president. "This is a pretty big government, the United States government. I've got a lot of moving parts. There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that's the case we'll find out and we'll hold somebody accountable...I did not authorize it; Eric Holder the attorney general, did not authorize it. He's been very clear that our policy is to catch gunrunners and put them into jail."
Yet according to a CBS News report issued early in March, Agent Dodson's claims were corroborated by "a dozen other ATF sources -- all telling the same story." Agent Dodson has indicated that he isn't backing down. "I'm boots on the ground in Phoenix, telling you we've been doing it every day since I've been here," he said. "Here I am. Tell me I didn't do the things that I did. Tell me you didn't order me to do the things I did. Tell me it didn't happen. Now you have a name on it. You have a face to put with it. Here I am. Someone now, tell me it didn't happen." Mr. Dodson's contempt for the policy was also corroborated. Again from CBS News: "at least 11 ATF agents and senior managers voiced fierce opposition to the strategy. 'It got ugly…' said one. There was 'screaming and yelling' says another. A third warned: 'this is crazy, somebody is gonna get killed.'"
Mr. Issa isn't alone in his attempt to find out what actually occurred. Senator Charles Grassley's (R-IA) has attempted to get the truth about the operation as well. The DOJ's response? "Practically zilch," said the Senator back in March, after sending several letters to the organization (all of which can be found here) demanding answers. He added that "...we have even sent them documents that come to people within the organization that know a little bit about this, that contradicts (sic) everything the agency has told us, and we're just getting stonewalled..." He applauds Mr. Issa's current efforts. "Senator Grassley is pleased that Mr. Issa has joined him in getting to the bottom of the ATF's policy on letting guns walk, and he plans to coordinate and share information with Mr. Issa as the investigation continues," Sen. Grassley's spokeswoman Beth Levine said.
According to reports, a videotape of the transactions exists. It show suspicious individuals buying huge quantities of weapons ostensibly for "personal use" with cash in paper bags--filmed by the ATF itself. How many purchases did the ATF allow? "The numbers are over 2,500 on that case by the way. That's how many guns were sold--including some 50-calibers they let walk," said one Gunrunner source, who, like his colleagues, didn't want to be identified for fear of retaliation. (A sidebar: 50-caliber rifles are the number one choice for snipers and have a confirmed kill range of over 2600 yards.)
Agent Terry was killed with one of those guns. It was sold at a Glendale, Arizona shop monitored by the ATF. It is also likely another American, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata, killed in Mexico on February 15th, was also a victim of Project Gunrunner. The weapon used in that crime was traced to Otilio Osorio, a Dallas-area man, allegedly tied to a crime group that assists cartels by illegally selling them guns from the U.S. Yet because 40 separate guns were involved in the purchase, ties to Agent Zapata's death have yet to be officially confirmed.
There is also another explosive charge revealed, once again, by CBS News. The network is reporting that the ATF wasn't the only agency involved in the gunrunning operations. "Documents show ATF had conference calls with 'DHS' (Homeland Security). 'USMS' (U.S. Marshals) and DEA. An 'Ice' or Customs Agent was on ATF's Fast and Furious team. They were advised by an 'AUSA' or Assistant U.S. Attorney under the Justice Department," says CBS. In addition, Mr. Issa believes the State Department was also involved. He sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding her agency's refusal to turn over documents and information about the ATF as well, characterizing the State Department's stonewalling as "simply unacceptable."
AG Eric Holder claims an investigation is proceeding. "The aim of the ATF is to try to stop the flow of guns. I think they do a good job in that regard. Questions have been raised by ATF agents about the way in which some of these operations have been conducted. I think those questions have to be taken seriously, and on that basis, I've asked the Inspector General to look at it." Senator Grassley remains skeptical regarding the IG. "The president saying the Inspector General is investigating is a laugh," Grassely told radio host Laura Ingraham. "I have respect for most Inspector Generals, and maybe even this one. But we've been stonewalled so much, that I'm not even going to trust an Inspector General's report on this particular incidence. I want the facts to come, I want the documents, we need to know this because, you know there's a murder come out of this[.]"
He also had some blunt advice for both Attorney General Holder and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, another administration official who, under questioning, has claimed not to know anything about Project Gunrunner: "I can tell these two folks, relatively new in their office (sic) two years...the longer they're stonewalling, the longer they're trying to protect their public relations so they don't look bad, and when things eventually come out, they got more egg on their face (sic) than ever. So they ought to wake up, get the information out and get this thing behind them."
Mr. Issa has made it clear where his investigation is headed. "The unwillingness of this Administration--most specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms--to answer questions about this deadly serious matter is deeply troubling," said the chairman in a statement. "Allegations surrounding this program are serious and the ability of the Justice Department to conduct an impartial investigation is in question. Congressional oversight is necessary to get the truth about what is really happening."
For those who appreciate irony, it should be noted that last Monday, President Obama accepted a transparency in government award from the organizers of the National Freedom of Information Day Conference. The ceremony was off limits for the press. With the notable exception of CBS News and the work of reporter Sharyl Attkisson, it appears that Project Gunrunner has also been largely "off limits" for the mainstream media, along with a "transparent" Obama administration which requires a subpoena in order to release information. There is a major scandal brewing here, and the deaths of one, or possibly two, Americans may be just the beginning: according to several reports, guns from this botched sting operation are showing up at crime scenes in Mexico. The United States? Guns that can be "walked" into Mexico can just as easily be walked back.