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Tag: ATF

Sen. Grassley Wants to Know If ATF Agents Have Been Advised to Stonewall Congressional Inquiries

Sen. Grassley/official photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley on Friday expressed concerns that ATF agents are possibly being encouraged not to fully cooperate with Congressional inquiries into a controversial  ATF gun-walking program.

In a press release issued Friday, Grassley said his concerns surfaced after documents released by AFT through the Freedom of Information Act included an email to ATF Deputy Director Billy Hoover “regarding suggestions on how ATF agents should be directed to respond to congressional requests, like those from Grassley. ”

He did not indicate who wrote the email and the name of person was redacted in a copy he released. It did show the person was part of the “SMO”, which in the Justice Department stands for Senior Management Offices.

In an April 8  letter to Kenneth Melson, head of ATF, Grassley writes of the email:

“It appears to contain proposed guidance to ATF employees about how to respond to contacts from my office. The guidance instructs ATF employees that they “are in no way obligated to respond” to questions from Congress. It also attempts to prevent direct communications with my office by instructing that ATF employees “should refer congressional staff who seek information from you to the ATF’s office of congressional affairs.”

“The guidance further attempts to prevent direct communications with my office by claiming that ATF employees “are not authorized to disclose non-public information.”

“It is unclear from the email released through FOIA whether this guidance was actually communicated to ATF employees. However, it is of grave concern because, as you know, such attempts to prevent direct communications with Congress are not a lawfully authorized activity of any officer or employee of the United States whose salary is paid with appropriated funds.”

Grassley said in the press release:  “Since our investigation began, I’ve continued to be contacted by agents and others within the ATF about wrongdoing regarding Fast and Furious at the ATF and the Justice Department. If people have concerns they should be able to express themselves without feeling pressure from their bosses.”

Operation and Fast and Furious encouraged straw purchasers to buy weapons, all with the hopes of tracing them to the higher levels of the Mexican cartels.

But critics complained ATF lost track of some guns, and some were used in serious crimes.

ATF did not immediately respond for comment.

Read letter to Ken Melson

Atty. Gen. Holder Sends Memo to Justice Dept. Employees on Possible Shutdown; FBI’s Mueller Complains About Potential Budget Shortfall


By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — The prospect of a government shutdown over the budget is causing some unease at the Justice Department, which includes the FBI, DEA and ATF.

“Should it become necessary to implement our contingency plans, you will receive notice from your manager no later than Friday April 8th regarding the designation of your position and status,” Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. wrote in a memo to Justice employees, who number more than 100,000. The memo was obtained by CNN.

That being said,  CNN reports that the Justice Department has unofficially said all employees involved in public safety will be considered essential employees who will continue to work.

That means all FBI personnel will work, and all 116 federal prisons will continue to operate, CNN reported.

But CNN reports that the Justice Department “will be forced to stop or curtail activities including most civil litigation, community outreach to victims of crime and the processing of grants.”

CNN said Holder told employees Wednesday that “as soon as funding lapses federal departments and agencies will not be permitted to incur further financial obligations performing activities funded by annual appropriations except those related to the orderly suspension of operations or performance of excepted activities.”

FBI Dir. Mueller testifies on Hill/ file photo

Meanwhile, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress Wednesday that the proposed short-term funding measure for the remainder of the year would create problems for the FBI in the area of intelligence, CNN reported.

“I can only say that under the proposed CR (continuing resolution) the FBI would be the only major partner in the intelligence community that is NOT fully funded. And while our intelligence community partners would be able to proceed with planned initiatives and programs, the Bureau (FBI) could not,” Mueller said, according to CNN.

CNN reported that Mueller also said: “We simply cannot afford to return to the pre-9/11 days where hiring and staffing at the FBI was a roller-coaster that left most field offices understaffed.” Mueller blamed pre-9/11 funding uncertainties for “degradation of the FBI’s physical and information technology infrastructure that contributed to shortcomings in our capabilities.”

Justice Dept. “Surprised and Disappointed” With Subpoena Issued for ATF

atf file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — No surprise, politics is surfacing inside the beltway.

The Justice Department on Friday expressed disappointment in a Congressional committee which issued a subpoena for documents from ATF on a controversial gun program,  saying it had already told the committee it planned to cooperate.

“We  are therefore surprised and disappointed when shortly after we notified your staff of our intent to work with the Committee, you nevertheless issued a subpoena a few hours later,” the Justice Department wrote Friday to the committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa. ”  Despite this unnecessary step on your part, we will review the subpoena and work with the Committee to address your concerns.”

The Justice Dept. response came on the same day  Issa, chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced he had issued a subpoena to ATF after the agency failed to a meet the Wednesday deadline to handover documents pertaining to the gun-walking programs Operation Gunrunner and its offshoot, Operation Fast and Furious.

Operation Fast and Furious let straw purchasers buy guns, all with the hopes that ATF could trace them to the Mexican cartels. Unfortunately, some of the guns have been used in crimes.

The letter, written by Assistant Atty. Gen. Ronald Weich, also stated:

“As you know the Department has been working with the Committee to provide documents responsive to its March 16 request to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Yesterday, we informed Committee staff that we intended to produce a number of responsive documents with the next week.

“As we explained, there are some documents  that we would be unable to provide without compromising the Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into the death of agent Brian Terry as well as other investigations and prosecutions, but we would seek to work productively with the Committee to find other ways to be responsive to its needs.”

Senator Chuck Grassley, who has been pushing the issue and has been critical of ATF, issued a statement on Friday saying:

“According to more than a dozen whistleblowers from the ATF, the bureau knowingly has allowed assault weapons to be sold to these so-called straw buyers, individuals who illegally purchase firearms in the U.S. and then transport the weapons across the border to resell them to Mexican drug cartels. The ATF officials say the practice was intended to trap gun-smuggling networks operating along the southwest border who supply the violent drug –trafficking cartels in Mexico.”

“The agents warned that the practice was headed for disaster. And, their prophecy came true. Instead of intercepting the assault rifles and hand-pistols, the firearms allegedly were allowed to “walk” across the border, without U.S. interdiction, delivering thousands of guns into violent, drug networks in Mexico.

“Tragically, those who might have given the green light to the ill-conceived strategy may now have the blood of U.S. federal agents on their hands.”

“In December, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in a shoot-out along the southwest border near Tucson, Arizona. Two AK-47 type assault rifles found at the scene were among the firearms purchased illegally under an operation known as “Fast and Furious.” The murder of another federal agent in February also may have ties to this practice. Special Agent Jaime Zapata of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was attacked and killed, with a gun purchased by an alleged straw buyer, while on assignment in Mexico.”

Rep. Issa Explains Why He Issued a Subpoena

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36E8WTZRgNo

Rep. Issa Subpoenas Documents From ATF in Controversial Gun-Walking Program

Rep. Issa/gov photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — A show down on Capitol Hill seems to be getting closer.

The head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform announced Friday morning that he was issuing a subpoena to ATF to force it to turn over documents relating to a controversial gun program “Project Gunrunner” and its offshoot “Project Fast and Furious.”

The subpoena, announced by committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), comes in response to ATF’s failure to comply with a request by the committee to turn over the materials. The deadline was Wednesday. The deadline to comply with the subpoena is April 13.

“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,” Issa said 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.”

Drew Wade, an ATF spokesman, said Friday morning shortly before the subpoena was announced: “We aren’t going to discuss matters of ongoing investigations. He could not immediately be reached for a follow up comment.

The controversy centers on a an ATF program that allowed straw purchasers to buy guns — all with the hopes of tracing them to the Mexican cartels. Some guns have been used in crimes.

A press release issued Friday morning by the committee stated:

“On March 16, 2011, Chairman Issa wrote a letter to Acting Director Kenneth Melson of the ATF requesting specific documents related to Project Gunrunner, its “Fast and Furious” component, and records related to the death of Border Agent Brian Terry. ATF failed to meet the March 30th deadline for producing these documents and furthermore refused to voluntarily commit to any date for producing them. ”

“Media reports have raised questions about the handling of operations involving gun trafficking into Mexico – specifically the allegation that ATF has had a policy of permitting – and even encouraging – the movement of guns into Mexico by straw purchasers.

“This practice may have contributed to the deaths of hundreds on both sides of the border, including federal law enforcement agents. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who has also been pursuing the matter, recently stated, ‘I’m still asking questions and we’re still getting the runaround from the Justice Department, [t]hey’re stonewalling.’”

“President Obama recently stated that neither he nor Attorney General Holder authorized this operation. His statement did not specify whether Attorney General Holder was aware of this policy or who did authorize it. The Committee’s investigation seeks answers to these questions and the true nature of Project Gunrunner.”

The subpoena requests the following documents, according to the press release:

1. Documents and communications relating to the genesis of Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, and any memoranda or reports involving any changes to either program at or near the time of the release of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General report about Project Gunrunner in November 2010.

Read more »

Column: ATF Needs to Clean the Manure Off Its Boots Now

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — ATF has stepped into a big pile of manure and it hasn’t been doing a very good job of trying to clean off its boots.

I’m referring to the dust up over Operation Fast and Furious , a program out of Arizona in which ATF let “straw purchasers” buy guns and transport them to Mexico, all with the hopes of tracing them to the Mexican cartels.

The problem is that ATF couldn’t possibly keep tabs on all those guns. Some reportedly were used to kill some federal agents. When word of the program got out, folks like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia) demanded answers.

ATF has been slow to produce answers for Congress.  Grassley is now accusing ATF of stonewalling.

The press has had a field day. One story after another has appeared in papers and on television stations around the country.  None of them good. ATF looks like the stuff it has stepped in.

“The feeling is that somebody was sleeping at the switch, although they had good intentions,” one ATF official told me. “It was not a well thought out plan. I think there’s a lot of finger pointing right now.”

Agents say clearly letting so many guns walk was a big mistake. The goal was too ambitious, the risk too great. Maybe the agency was responding to criticism that it needed to go after bigger fish. That’s still not an excuse.

atf file photo

Regardless, agents say they’ve been left in the dark. The ATF honchos at headquarters aren’t telling them anything. They’ve had to rely on  information from the media. Many have been demoralized by the mess.

Plus, it’s caused a strain between Washington and the Mexican officials, who feel that the Americans don’t respect them. Let’s face it: It’s highly unlikely ATF would let that many guns walk if the guns wound up in the hands of American criminals instead of the Mexican cartels.

It was a bad plan. And the Justice Department needs to shoulder some blame since someone fairly high up knew about it and gave the blessing.

Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Jr. says he never gave the OK.

“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 have asked the Inspector General to look at it,” Holder recently said.

Some are taking a wait and see attitude. They say the facts haven’t all come out. And cracking down on straw buyers isn’t always so easy because their true intent — buying guns on behalf of other people —  can be disguised and made to look legit.

That being said, ATF and the Justice Department need to come clean — as soon as possible.  Whenever I speak before law enforcement groups, be it a police precinct or at a university — I tell them: “Get as much of the story out as possible and be truthful. If you hide things or lie, the press will turn one story into five.”

Best to clean up the mess before the manure becomes a permanent fixture on those boots.

(Just in: CBS reports that Kenneth Melson, head of ATF,  has decided not to testify before a Senate hearing on Thursday where he would likely be asked about the gun program. Not good. He’s the boss. He needs to get out there in public.)

ATF’s Mess: Operation Fast and Furious

Obama Pleads Ignorance: Says He Never Knew About Controversial ATF Gun Program

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — President Obama is pleading ignorance about a controversial ATF operation that let gun traffickers pass on the goods so agents could track them to the higher levels of the Mexican cartels.

The President, in an interview with Univision that he and Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Jr. ever authorized the program, and he was never informed about it, according to the San Antonio Express News.

Weapons from the program have been linked to the death in Mexico in February of Jamie Zapata and of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December. The Mexican government complained that it was never notified about the program.

To read more click here.

Rep. Issa Blasts ATF in Letter Over Gun Running Operations

Rep. Issa/gov photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The controversy over  ATF programs designed to stop the flow of guns into Mexico isn’t going away. Some guns have been used in serious crimes.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has fired off a letter to Ken Melson, head of ATF, accusing the agency of failing to cooperate with a Congressional inquiry into the matter. Issa has directed ATF to provide documents and information to Congress by month’s end. The letter was posted on the CBS news website.

The letter referenced  two ATF operations — Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious — which allowed gun traffickers to buy guns and subsequently sell them, all with hopes of tracking them to the drug cartels in Mexico. But investigations have found the guns have been used in crimes including in the deaths of Border Patrol Agent  Brian Terry in Arizona in December and ICE Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico in February

“Recent media reports have raised grave questions about your department’s handling of operations involving gun trafficking in Mexico,” the March 16 letter says.

“In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jamie Zapata, it is imperative that you act decisively to assuage the public’s deep suspicions that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has a policy permitting – and even encouraging – the movement of guns into Mexico by straw purchasers.”

“It has been brought to my attention that you are not cooperating with the congressional inquiries into Project Gun Runner and Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa wrote.

The Mexican government is also investigated the matter.

ATF did not immediately respond for comment on Friday morning.

Read the letter

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH REP. ISSA

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrBbt6yxvFE