ATF Officials Reassigned as Fast and Furious Continues to Derail

 
on October 06 2011 10:14 AM
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. REUTERS

In the aftermath of the botched gun-tracking operation along the Southwest border, called Fast and Furious, which allowed weapons from the United States to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers and Mexican drug cartels, two top supervisors at federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), headquarters have been reassigned.

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, the Washington Post reported.

Replacing Hoover as deputy director in Washington will be Thomas Brandon, who was sent to Phoenix to run the field office there. Hoover, who had broad supervision over Fast and Furious and was given routine operation updates, tried to shut it down six months after it started in the fall of 2009. Failing in his attempt, the operation continued until January of this year.

In that time, more than 2,000 were lost; many turned up in at least 170 violent crime scenes in Mexico.

The new ATF assignments were announced Thursday by Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, who has named acting head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this year.

The outrage has House Republicans calling for a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself in Congress during his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee regarding Fast and Furious.

On May 3, the attorney general claimed in congressional testimony that he had only recently learned about the gun-walking program his Justice Department was running with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

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, Holder testified.

Yet new documents directly contradict Holder's statement to Congress, leaving House Republicans asking for a special probe. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, was sending a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday asking the president to instruct the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel, saying Holder cannot investigate himself.

The investigation seeks to ferret out whether Holder purposefully made the false statements while under oath. One document, dated July 2010, shows Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, told Holder that straw buyers in the Fast and Furious operation are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels.

Other memos show that Holder started receiving weekly briefings on the Fast and Furious program from the National Drug Intelligence Center beginning, at the latest, on July 5, 2010, Smith wrote.

The updates mentioned, not only the name of the operation, but also specific details about guns being trafficked to Mexico, Smith wrote in his letter to the president. Allegations that senior Justice Department officials may have intentionally misled members of Congress are extremely troubling and must be addressed by an independent and objective special counsel. I urge you to appoint a special counsel who will investigate these allegations as soon as possible.

The Department of Justice, however, defended Holder in a statement Tuesday, saying:

The Attorney General's testimony to both the House and the Senate was consistent and truthful, it read. He said in both March and May of this year that he became aware of the questionable tactics employed in the Fast and Furious Operation in early 2011 when ATF agents first raised them publicly, and at the time, he asked the Inspector General's office to investigate the matter.

Fast and Furious's Goal

Fast and Furious was designed to bring down Mexican cartels importing U.S.-bought weapons and shipping drugs to the United States. In the operation, ATF agents allegedly allowed thousands of weapons to cross the border and fall into Mexican drug cartel hands, CBS News reported.

It's called letting guns walk, and it remained unknown to the public until Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered last December; two Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene and ATF agent John Dodson blew the whistle. It was also learned that the ATF agents lost track of more than 1,000 firearms during the operation last year.

The House Judiciary Committee's request for a special counsel is the third such request in the last two years. In October 2009, Smith asked for a special counsel to investigate ACORN, a community organizing group. In July 2010, Smith requested an investigation into the New Black Panther Party on charges of voter intimidation.

Following the release of the memos, a Justice Department official said that Holder has consistently said he became aware of the questionable tactics in early 2011 when ATF agents first raised them publicly, and then promptly asked the (inspector general) to investigate the matter.

According to the official, Holder testified in March 2011, to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, of that development; the Justice Department official also said Holder regularly receives hundreds of pages, none of which contained information regarding the Fast and Furious operation or its potential problems.

The weekly reports (100 + pages) are provided to the office of the AG and (deputy attorney general) each week from approximately 24 offices and components. These are routine reports that provide general overviews and status updates on issues, policies, cases and investigations from offices and components across the country. None of these reports referenced the controversial tactics of that allowed guns to cross the border, the official said.

(House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell) Issa of all people, should be familiar with the difference between knowing about an investigation and being aware of questionable tactics employed in that investigation since documents provided to his committee show he was given a briefing that included the fast and furious operation in 2010 - a year before the controversy emerged, the official continued.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told Fox News that months before Holder's Jan. 31 testimony, the attorney general came to Grassley's office, where the senator gave him a detailed letter on the Fast and Furious investigation.

If he read my letter, he knew on Jan. 31, Grassley said. He probably actually knew about it way back in the middle of last year or earlier.

Grassley would not say whether he thought Holder committed perjury.

But I can tell you this. They're doing everything they can, in a fast and furious way, to cover up all the evidence or stonewalling us. But here's the issue, if he didn't perjure himself and didn't know about it, the best way that they can help us, Congressman [Darrell] Issa and me, is to just issue all the documents that we ask for and those documents will prove one way or the other right or wrong.

 

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