Disgraced Attorney General Eric Holder To Testify About His Department’s Efforts That Supplied Guns To Mexican Drug Cartels

October 28, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – CBS News has learned Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee regarding “Fast and Furious.” The hearing will take place Dec. 8th.

Judiciary Committee member and head of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) had requested that Holder appear, in part to dig deeper into when-he-knew-what about ATF’s so-called “gunwalking” operation Fast and Furious.

In May, Holder testified that he only first heard about Fast and Furious a few weeks before. However, as CBS News reported, documents and memos indicate he had been sent multiple briefings mentioning Fast and Furious in 2010.

Holder later explained in a letter to Congress that he didn’t read those memos, and that in any event, nobody at the Justice Department who knew of Fast and Furious was aware of the specific “gunwalking” tactics used.

More Fast and Furious coverage
Memos contradict Holder on Fast and Furious
Agent: I was ordered to let guns “walk” into Mexico
Gunwalking scandal uncovered at ATF

Also today, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) requested a public hearing with the former Director of ATF: Kenneth Melson.

“A hearing with Mr. Melson would help the Committee and the American people better understand what mistakes were made in Operation Fast and Furious, how these tactics originated, who did and did not authorize them, and what steps are being taken to ensure that they are not used again,” wrote Cummings in a letter today to Rep. Issa.

Rep. Cummings says Melson’s attorney has indicated Melson would be “pleased to cooperate.”

Below is a copy of the Cummings letter.

October 28, 2011

The Honorable Darrell E. Issa

Chairman

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

As I have stated repeatedly, I believe Operation Fast and Furious was a terrible mistake with tragic consequences. As I have also stated, I support a fair and responsible investigation that follows the facts where they lead, rather than drawing conclusions before evidence is gathered or ignoring information that does not fit into a preconceived narrative.

On several occasions over the past month, you have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about when he first became aware of the controversial tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious. The Attorney General has now agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on December 8, 2011, when you will have another opportunity to question him directly.

With respect to our own Committee’s investigation, I do not believe it will be viewed as legitimate or credible-and I do not believe the public record will be complete-without public testimony from Kenneth Melson, who served as the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

A hearing with Mr. Melson would help the Committee and the American people better understand what mistakes were made in Operation Fast and Furious, how these tactics originated, who did and did not authorize them, and what steps are being taken to ensure that they are not used again.

Our staffs have already conducted transcribed interviews with Mr. Melson and the former Deputy Director of ATF, William Hoover. During those interviews, these officials expressed serious concerns about the controversial tactics employed by the Phoenix Field Division of ATF as part of this operation. They also raised concerns about the manner in which the Department of Justice responded to congressional inquiries. Both officials also stated that they had not been aware of the controversial tactics being used in Operation Fast and Furious, had not authorized those tactics, and had not informed anyone at the Department of Justice headquarters about them. They stated that Operation Fast and Furious originated within the Phoenix Field Division, and that ATF headquarters failed to properly supervise it.

Since the Attorney General has now agreed to appear before Congress in December, I believe Members also deserve an opportunity to question Mr. Melson directly, especially since he headed the agency responsible for

Operation Fast and Furious. My staff has been in touch with Mr. Melson’s attorney, who reports that Mr. Melson would be pleased to cooperate with the Committee.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Elijah E. Cummings

Ranking Member

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Subpoena Issued As Congress Investigates US Justice Department Efforts That Armed Mexican Drug Cartels With High Power Assault Weapons

October 13, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressional investigators issued a subpoena Wednesday for communications from several top Justice Department officials — including Attorney General Eric Holder — relating to the discredited “Fast and Furious” federal gunrunning operation.

The subpoena, issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also covers communications from Holder’s chief of staff, Gary Grindler, and from Lanny Breuer, head of the department’s criminal division.

Among other things, the subpoena includes a request for information regarding relevant Justice Department communications with the White House, as well as details about the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent last December, the source added.

“Top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Holder, know more about Operation Fast and Furious than they have publicly acknowledged,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“The documents this subpoena demands will provide answers to questions that Justice officials have tried to avoid since this investigation began eight months ago. It’s time we know the whole truth.”

Holder has promised to comply with any Capitol Hill subpoena, though a Justice Department spokeswoman appeared to dismiss the development as a political exercise.

“We’ve made clear from the beginning that the department intends to work with the committee to answer legitimate questions,” Tracy Schmaler said. “However, this subpoena shows that Chairman Issa is more interested in generating headlines than in real oversight important to the American people.”

Operation Fast and Furious involved agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowing illegal sales of guns, believed to be destined for Mexican drug cartels, to “walk” from Phoenix gun stores into Mexico.

The idea was to track the sellers and purchasers of guns to Mexican cartels. But the program became mired in controversy after weapons found at Mexican and American murder scenes were traced back to the program. Mexican officials and critics in the United States called the operation a failure, saying it exacerbated the longstanding problem of U.S. weapons getting into the hands of the violent Mexican cartels.

A GOP-led congressional investigation into the matter has become politically contentious, with administration and Capitol Hill leaders accusing each other of acting irresponsibly.

In a letter to Holder released Monday, Issa, a California congressman, accused the attorney general of actively obstructing Congress’ oversight function and damaging his own credibility as a top national law enforcement officer.

“Numerous statements” made by Holder about Operation Fast and Furious have “been proven to be untrue,” Issa said.

“The time for deflecting blame and obstructing our investigation is over,” Issa wrote in the letter, which was dated Sunday. “The time has come for you to come clean to the American public about what you knew about Fast and Furious, when you knew it, and who is going to be held accountable for failing to shut down a program that has already had deadly consequences, and will likely cause more casualties for years to come.”

Issa blasted Holder for “negligence and incompetence” on the issue, and for offering a “roving set of ever-changing explanations” designed primarily to “circle the wagons around (the Justice Department) and its political appointees.”

The operation was the Justice Department’s “most significant gun trafficking case,” Issa said. “On your watch, it went spectacularly wrong. Whether you realize yet or not, you own Fast and Furious. It is your responsibility.”

Holder testified before the Judiciary Committee in May that he had known about the Fast and Furious program for just a few weeks. Republicans insist that recently released Justice Department documents show the attorney general actually knew about the program much earlier.

Holder and his aides continue to vehemently deny that charge.

The attorney general responded angrily Friday to GOP critics of his handling of the operation, charging them with using “irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric.”

“I simply cannot sit idly by as a (Republican) member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered ‘accessories to murder,'” Holder said in a letter to members of Congress.

Such rhetoric, Holder declared, “must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms.”

On Sunday, Issa said the Judiciary Committee has invited Holder to “come and clear the record.”

“Clearly, he knew when he said he didn’t know,” Issa said. “Now the question is, what did he know and how is he going to explain why he gave that answer?”

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Oversight Committee Letter Questions Disgraced US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr’s Trustworthiness And Credibility After Lies About His Department Supplying Guns To Mexican Drug Cartels

October 11, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s “lack of trustworthiness” in explaining what he knew about the failed “Fast and Furious” weapons investigation has “called into question his overall credibility” to serve as the nation’s top prosecutor, the chairman of a House committee investigating the operation said Monday.

In a blistering letter, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Mr. Holder that it was time for him “to come clean to the American public” on what he knew and when about the weapons investigation, saying Mr. Holder has made numerous statements about the operation that have “proven to be untrue.”

“The time for deflecting blame and obstructing our investigation is over,” Mr. Issa wrote. “Operation Fast and Furious was the department’s most significant gun-trafficking case. It related to two of your major initiatives — destroying the Mexican [drug] cartels and reducing gun violence on both sides of the border.

“On your watch, it went spectacularly wrong. Whether you realize yet or not, you own Fast and Furious. It is your responsibility,” he wrote, adding that Mr. Holder had an obligation to say who is going to be held accountable “for failing to shut down a program that has already had deadly consequences, and will likely cause more casualties for years to come.”

Mr. Issa has been investigating Fast and Furious for several months with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The operation involved the purchase of weapons at Phoenix-area gun shops that eventually were “walked,” or taken, into Mexico, where they were delivered to Mexican dug bosses.

Two of the weapons, both AK-47 assault rifles, were found at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry in December.

Mr. Issa said the Justice Department from the beginning of the probe has offered “a roving set of ever-changing explanations to justify its involvement in this reckless and deadly program.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman dismissed Mr. Issa’s letter Monday as “recycled” partisanship.

But Mr. Issa said Justice’s defenses were aimed at undermining the congressional investigation.

The Justice Department insisted from the start that no wrongdoing had occurred and asked that he and Mr. Grassley defer their oversight responsibilities because of concerns they would interfere with an ongoing investigation by the department’s Office of Inspector General, Mr. Issa said.

Additionally, he said, the department steadfastly insisted that none of the Fast and Furious guns had been “walked” into Mexico.

“Once documentary and testimonial evidence strongly contradicted these claims, the department attempted to limit the fallout from Fast and Furious to the Phoenix field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,” he said. “When that effort also proved unsuccessful, the department next argued that Fast and Furious resided only within ATF itself, before eventually also assigning blame to the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona.

“All of these efforts were designed to circle the wagons around [Justice] and its political appointees,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Holder claimed Fast and Furious did not reach the upper levels of the Justice Department, Mr. Issa said, although documents discovered through the course of the investigation proved that “each and every one of these claims advanced by the department to be untrue.”

“It appears your latest defense has reached a new low,” he said, adding that Mr. Holder in a letter Friday said he was unaware of the Fast and Furious operation because his staff failed to inform him of information contained in memos that were specifically addressed to the attorney general.

“At best, this indicates negligence and incompetence in your duties as attorney general,” Mr. Issa said. “At worst, it places your credibility into serious doubt.

“Instead of pledging all necessary resources to assist the congressional investigation in discovering the truth behind the fundamentally flawed Operation Fast and Furious, your letter instead did little but obfuscate, shift blame, berate and attempt to change the topic away from the department’s responsibility in the creation, implementation and authorization of this reckless program.”

On Friday, Mr. Holder denied that emails sent to his office showed that he knew of the Fast and Furious operation and did nothing about it. He said public comments about the inquiry and his involvement with it had become “so base and so harmful to interests that I hope we all share” that he had to publicly address the matter.

Mr. Holder said he took “decisive action” when he learned earlier this year about Fast and Furious in ordering the Office of Inspector General to investigate the matter. He said he also overhauled the leadership at ATF and the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix, which oversaw the investigation.

“It has become clear that the flawed tactics employed in Fast and Furious were not limited to that operation and were actually employed in an investigation conducted during the prior administration,” Mr. Holder said, referring to a separate initiative known as “Operation Wide Receiver” managed by federal authorities during the George W. Bush administration.

“Regardless, those tactics should never again be adopted in any investigation,” he said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the Issa allegations, no matter how many times they are repeated, continue to be “baseless.” She said Mr. Holder took concerns about tactics used in Fast and Furious to the Office of Inspector General, where the operation is now under investigation.

“The department will continue to cooperate with both the inspector general and congressional investigations,” she said. “In the meantime, what the American people deserve is less partisan showboating and more responsible solutions to stopping gun violence on the Southwest Border.”

In the letter, Mr. Issa said documents obtained by congressional investigators show Mr. Holder was aware of Fast and Furious in the summer of 2010 at the latest, not April or May of this year as he testified. Mr. Issa said Mr. Holder was informed about the ATF investigation on at least five occasions and was told that straw buyers were responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels.

“Yet, you did nothing to stop this program,” Mr. Issa said. “You failed to own up to your responsibility to safeguard the American public by hiding behind” attorneys in your office, “who you now claim did not bring this information to your attention.”

Mr. Issa said the “most disturbing aspect of this intransigence” is that the Justice Department “has been lying to Congress ever since the inquiry into Fast and Furious began.”

“These firearms were not interdicted. They were not stopped. Your agents allowed these firearms purchases to continue, sometimes even monitoring them in person, and within days some of these weapons were being recovered in Mexico,” he said.

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100+ Assault Weapons Supplied By U.S. ATF Found In Drug Cartel Enforcer’s Home In Mexico

October 9, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – High-powered assault weapons illegally purchased under the ATF’s Fast and Furious program in Phoenix ended up in a home belonging to the purported top Sinaloa cartel enforcer in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, whose organization was terrorizing that city with the worst violence in the Mexican drug wars.

In all, 100 assault weapons acquired under Fast and Furious were transported 350 miles from Phoenix to El Paso, making that West Texas city a central hub for gun traffickers. Forty of the weapons made it across the border and into the arsenal of Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, a feared cartel leader in Ciudad Juarez, according to federal court records and trace documents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The smugglers’ tactics — quickly moving the weapons far from ATF agents in southern Arizona, where it had been assumed they would circulate — vividly demonstrate that what had been viewed as a local problem was much larger. Six other Fast and Furious guns destined for El Paso were recovered in Columbus, N.M.

“These Fast and Furious guns were going to Sinaloans, and they are killing everyone down there,” said one knowledgeable U.S. government source, who asked for anonymity because of the ongoing investigations. “But that’s only how many we know came through Texas. Hundreds more had to get through.”

Torres Marrufo, also known as “the Jaguar,” has been identified by U.S. authorities as the enforcer for Sinaloa cartel chieftain Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. The Fast and Furious weapons were found at one of Torres Marrufo’s homes April 30 when Mexican police inspected the property. It was unoccupied but “showed signs of recent activity,” they said.

The basement had been converted into a gym with a wall covered with built-in mirrors. Behind the mirrors they found a hidden room with the Fast and Furious weapons and dozens more, including an antiaircraft machine gun, a sniper rifle and a grenade launcher.

“We have seized the most important cache of weapons in the history of Ciudad Juarez,” Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte said at the time, though he did not know that many of the weapons came from the U.S. and Fast and Furious.

Torres Marrufo has been indicted in El Paso, but authorities have been unable to locate and arrest him.

In the U.S., intelligence officials consider the Sinaloa cartel the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world. Weekly reports from U.S. intelligence authorities to the Justice Department in the summer of 2010, at the height of Fast and Furious, warned about the proliferation of guns reaching the Sinaloa cartel.

Under Fast and Furious, begun in fall 2009, the ATF allowed illegal buyers to walk away with weapons in the hope that agents in Phoenix could track the guns and arrest cartel leaders.

Three months into the program, El Paso began to emerge as a hub, perhaps the central location, for Fast and Furious weapons. On Jan. 13, 2010, El Paso police stumbled upon 40 firearms after following a suspicious dark blue Volkswagen Jetta that backed into a garage at a local residence, according to federal court records.

Alberto Sandoval told authorities he acquired the weapons three days after they were purchased from someone he knew only as “Rudy.” He said he was paid $1,000 to store the guns and “knew the firearms were going to Mexico.”

Sandoval pleaded guilty in federal court in El Paso and was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. A month later, on Dec. 17, 2010, he escaped from a minimum-security prison in Tucson; officials believe he fled to Mexico.

Two others, Ivan Chavira and Edgar Ivan Galvan, were subsequently charged in that gun recovery, along with the recovery of 20 Fast and Furious weapons on April 7, 2010, in El Paso. Those guns also were discovered by chance by local authorities, and ATF trace records show that the weapons were purchased in Phoenix two weeks before they were found in El Paso.

Chavira and Galvan pleaded guilty. Chavira received eight years in prison; Galvan is to be sentenced next month.

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Two Top Washington DC ATF Supervisors Demoted After Agency Supplied Guns To Mexican Drug Cartels

October 6, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Two top supervisors at ATF headquarters in Washington — the deputy director and the assistant director for all field operations — have been reassigned as the beleaguered agency attempts to remake itself amid the fallout from a failed gun-tracking operation along the Southwest border called Fast and Furious, according to two sources briefed on the changes.

William J. Hoover, the No. 2 man at ATF, will become special agent-in-charge of the agency’s Washington field office, while Mark Chait, who ran all of the field investigations around the country, is being reassigned as head of the Baltimore field office.

Thomas Brandon, who was sent to Phoenix to run the field office there and help it recover from the repercussions of Fast and Furious, will be taking Hoover’s spot as deputy director.

The new assignments, along with other job changes, were announced today by Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis who was named acting head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this year. He succeeded ATF chief Kenneth Melson, who was reassigned to a lower-level position in the Justice Department.

Hoover had broad supervision over Fast and Furious, was given routine updates on the “gun walking” operation, and grew concerned over the number of firearms getting into Mexico without any U.S. indictments on this side of the border.

He tried to get it shut down six months after it began in the fall of 2009. But he failed, and the program continued until January of this year. During that time, a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in Arizona and two Fast and Furious weapons were recovered at the scene.

Under the program, the ATF allowed the illegal purchase of countless weapons and expected agents to track them to Mexican drug cartels.

Instead, more than 2,000 were lost and many turned up in at least 170 violent crime scenes in Mexico.

The furor has prompted a congressional investigation and a review by the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office.

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Changes His Story With Respect To His Department Supplying Guns To Medican Drug Cartels

October 5, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – New documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial Fast and Furious operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his statement to Congress.

On May 3, 2011, Holder told a Judiciary Committee hearing, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

Yet internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.

The documents came from the head of the National Drug Intelligence Center and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

In Fast and Furious, ATF agents allegedly allowed thousands of weapons to cross the border and fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

It’s called letting guns “walk,” and it remained secret to the public until Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered last December. Two guns from Fast and Furious were found at the scene, and ATF agent John Dodson blew the whistle on the operation.

Agent: I was ordered to let guns “walk” into Mexico

Ever since, the Justice Department has publicly tried to distance itself. But the new documents leave no doubt that high level Justice officials knew guns were being “walked.”

Two Justice Department officials mulled it over in an email exchange Oct. 18, 2010. “It’s a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked but is a significant set of prosecutions,” says Jason Weinstein, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division. Deputy Chief of the National Gang Unit James Trusty replies “I’m not sure how much grief we get for ‘guns walking.’ It may be more like, “Finally they’re going after people who sent guns down there.”

The Justice Department told CBS News that the officials in those emails were talking about a different case started before Eric Holder became Attorney General. And tonight they tell CBS News, Holder misunderstood that question from the committee – he did know about Fast and Furious – just not the details.

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Documents Show Our Tax Dollars Funded ATF’s “Fast And Furious” Operation – Which Provided 2,000+ Guns To Mexican Drug Cartel

September 26, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Not only did U.S. officials approve, allow and assist in the sale of more than 2,000 guns to the Sinaloa cartel — the federal government used taxpayer money to buy semi-automatic weapons, sold them to criminals and then watched as the guns disappeared.

This disclosure, revealed in documents obtained by Fox News, could undermine the Department of Justice’s previous defense that Operation Fast and Furious was a “botched” operation where agents simply “lost track” of weapons as they were transferred from one illegal buyer to another. Instead, it heightens the culpability of the federal government as Mexico, according to sources, has opened two criminal investigations into the operation that flooded their country with illegal weapons.

Operation Fast and Furious began in October 2009. In it, federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives encouraged gun stores to sell weapons to an arms smuggling gang, then watched as the guns crossed the border and were used in crimes. Each month, the agency allowed hundreds of guns to go South, despite opposition from some agents.

All told, the gang spent more than $1.25 million for the illegal guns.

In June 2010, however, the ATF dramatically upped the ante, making the U.S. government the actual “seller” of guns.

According to documents obtained by Fox News, Agent John Dodson was ordered to buy six semi-automatic Draco pistols — two of those were purchased at the Lone Wolf gun store in Peoria, Ariz. An unusual sale, Dodson was sent to the store with a letter of approval from David Voth, an ATF group supervisor.

Dodson then sold the weapons to known illegal buyers, while fellow agents watched from their cars nearby.

This was not a “buy-bust” or a sting operation, where police sell to a buyer and then arrest them immediately afterward. In this case, agents were “ordered” to let the sale go through and follow the weapons to a stash house.

According to sources directly involved in the case, Dodson felt strongly that the weapons should not be abandoned and the stash house should remain under 24-hour surveillance. However, Voth disagreed and ordered the surveillance team to return to the office. Dodson refused, and for six days in the desert heat kept the house under watch, defying direct orders from Voth.

A week later, a second vehicle showed up to transfer the weapons. Dodson called for an interdiction team to move in, make the arrest and seize the weapons. Voth refused and the guns disappeared with no surveillance.

According to a story posted Sunday on a website dedicated to covering Fast and Furious, Voth gave Dodson the assignment to “dirty him up,” since Dodson had become the most vocal critic of the operation.

“I think Dodson demanded the letter from Voth to cover both himself and the FFL (Federal Firearm Licensee). He didn’t want to be hung out to dry by Voth,” a source told the website “Sipsey Street Irregulars.”

Subsequent to this undercover operation, sources told Sipsey, “Dodson just about came apart all over them (his supervisors). In a ‘screaming match’ that was heard throughout the Phoenix office by many employees, Dodson yelled at Voth and Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillett, ‘Why not just go direct and empty out the (ATF) arms room?” (to the cartels), or words to that effect.’

After the confrontation, ATF managers transferred Dodson to a more menial job. Months later, after the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, Dodson blew the whistle and went public about the federal government’s gunrunning operation.

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