by Jack Minor
Lawmakers from both houses, investigating Operation Fast and Furious, fired off a terse and angry letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, accusing him of issuing “false denials” and “distorting the truth.”
On Independence Day, acting ATF head, Kenneth Melson, testified before Congress with his own attorney present. Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said Melson chose July 4 to show the public he was appearing voluntarily and on his own time.
Melson was scheduled to appear before Congress July 13, with DOJ and ATF lawyers present. According to Issa, Melson was never told by the justice department that he was able to attend a voluntary interview with his own lawyer present.
During the interview, Melson said when he first learned of the operation, he was, “sick to my stomach.” He went on to say that he moved to reassign every manager involved in Fast and Furious; however, he was not allowed to tell Congress of the reason for the reassignments.
Following Melson’s testimony, Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary, fired off a five page letter to Holder.
Grassley and Issa said in the letter, “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. That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation.” It went on to say, “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.”
Holder’s office responded with a letter, saying, “We reject entirely any suggestion that our extraordinary efforts have been designed to limit rather than facilitate the committee’s access to information.”
Operation Fast and Furious involved government officials permitting straw purchases to members of Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to identify higher-ups in the organizations. Over 2,000 guns were sold and they have been linked to the death of at least two Americans, border patrol agent, Brian Terry, and ICE agent, Jaime Zapata. Last week, ABC News reported Fast and Furious weapons were used in several crimes in Arizona.
The “higher-ups” authorities who were attempting to identify with the operation were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants. Melson said other agencies, including the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, kept them in the dark. If they would have informed the ATF it could have had a material impact on the Fast and Furious investigation as far back as late 2009 or early 2010.
Appearing on the Hannity show, Issa said, unlike members of the justice department, Melson was very cooperative and answered all of the questions asked.
“His attorney never, never, never asked him to stop or have extensive consultation. He simply answered the question with his counsel present.” Issa continued, “That’s the opposite of what we’ve had in the previous interviews” with justice department officials with their attorneys present. “Essentially, they’re trying to limit our discovery; they’re trying to counsel their people to only give us certain things.”
Holder has repeatedly said that he only became aware of Operation Fast and Furious a few weeks before being asked to testify before Congress. Issa told Hannity he found it hard to believe Holder’s claim. “It’s almost impossible to believe that everyone, including CBS news, big newspapers and Fox had already reported on Fast and Furious and yet Eric Holder still didn’t know anything about it.”
Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who served during the Reagan administration, told the Gazette that while it is possible Obama knew nothing about the operation, Holder would have had to have known about it. “It is impossible to think that Eric holder did not know about it. It is likewise unlikely and almost impossible that Janet Napolitano did not know” , Tancredo said.
Lawmakers warned Holder against forcing Melson to resign or taking any other action against him. Melson is currently serving as an interim director of the ATF, which is a temporary job.
“Given his testimony, unless a permanent director is confirmed, it would be inappropriate for the Justice Department to take action against him that could have the effect of intimidating others who might want to provide additional information to the Committees.”
The letter continued, “Knowing what we know so far, we believe it would be inappropriate to make Mr. Melson the fall guy in an attempt to prevent further congressional oversight.”
Mexican lawmakers have said they will press for the extradition of any American officials who authorized and ran the operation.