Whenever a scandal rears its head, there is usually one person who becomes the designated fall guy in order to protect people higher up the chain of responsibility. With respect to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) operation known as “Fast and Furious,” which allowed “straw purchasers” to buy guns in Arizona and ship them to Mexico in order to track their shipment to Mexican drug cartels, that person was apparently ATF acting director, Kenneth Melson. Mr. Melson has decided not to play along. In secret testimony given over the July 4th holiday weekend, he accused the Department of Justice (DOJ) of obstructing a congressional investigation into the operation.
A stunning letter sent to DOJ head Eric Holder by lead investigators Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Charles Grassely House (R-IA) noted that Melman’s hearing had “originally been scheduled through the Justice Department to occur on July 13.” The letter further noted that Melson appeared earlier “because Justice Department officials sought to limit and control his communications with Congress.” They also criticized the department for not making Melson aware that he could participate in a “voluntary interview with [his] own lawyer…rather than participate with counsel representing the Department’s interests.”
Melson testified that “ATF’s senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process,” the investigators wrote. “However…Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress…That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation.”
“The Department’s inability or unwillingness to be more forthcoming served to conceal critical information that we are now learning about the involvement of other agencies, including the DEA and the FBI…The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities,” the lawmakers added.
Then, the most damning paragraph of all. “It is one thing to argue that the ends justify the means in an attempt to defend a policy that puts building a big case ahead of stopping known criminals from getting guns. Yet it is a much more serious matter to conceal from Congress the possible involvement of other agencies in identifying and maybe even working with the same criminals that Operation Fast and Furious was trying to identify.”
Yet that is precisely what the Justice Department is apparently doing. Grassley and Issa have been forced to subpoena documents that would likely reveal how far up the chain of command a program that amounted to government-sanctioned, cross-border gun smuggling went. Ostensibly, the cover-up involves cooperation among the ATF, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Or perhaps more accurately, a stunning lack of cooperation. Fox News is reporting that the main target of the ATF’s investigation was a confidential FBI informant. The individual was a high-level drug dealer who had initially been deported by the DEA before the FBI recruited him as a counter-terrorism informant. He was ostensibly tasked with reporting on terrorists and/or dirty bombs moving across the country’s border. ATF only became aware of the arrangement in April following a six-month, multi-million dollar investigation paid for by the public. That investigation revealed a disturbing level of bureaucratic ineptitude: the FBI informant was picked up by a DEA wiretap, and that info was forwarded to the ATF.
An unnamed source in Washington, D.C. reveals the absurdity. “They [the AFT] were going after someone they could never have,” the source told Fox News. “The Mr. Big they wanted was using government money to buy guns that went to the cartels. The FBI knew it and didn’t tell them.” Issa and Grassley also expressed their consternation. “If this information is accurate, then the whole misguided operation might have been cut short if not for catastrophic failures to share key information,” they wrote.
Equally absurd was the program itself. Fast and Furious, also known as Project Gunrunner, began in 2009 as an effort to stop gun trafficking across the border, yet it quickly devolved into a fiasco when 80 percent of the weapons went missing. According to a Gunrunner source who didn’t want to be identified for fear of retaliation, the number of weapons involved was daunting. “The numbers are over 2,500 on that case by the way,” he said, referring to a single sting operation captured on videotape. “That’s how many guns were sold–including some 50-calibers they let walk,” he added. It should be noted that .50 caliber rifles have a confirmed kill range of 2600 yards.