Yesterday afternoon, the Justice Department — in yet another late Friday document dump — revealed how DOJ officials came to write a Feb. 4 letter to Congress that Attorney General Eric Holder has since admitted contained false information about the gunrunning scandal Fast and Furious. Roll Call reports:
The documents show that Dennis Burke, then a U.S. attorney who has since resigned, and William Hoover, then the deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who has since been reassigned, principally provided the false information to officials who drafted the letter. But the documents do not shed light on whether either knew the information was false at the time.
In the Feb. 4 letter, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich broadly denied that ATF officials had allowed assault weapons to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels, allowing the guns to escape into the wild. “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico,” Weich wrote.
Grassley’s allegations about Fast and Furious, later revealed to be true, “are based on categorical falsehoods,” Burke wrote in a Jan. 31 email. Faith Burton, a Justice Department official who drafted an early version of the letter, took notes based on a phone conversation with Hoover that read, “ATF doesn’t let guns walk.”
Emails show Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division, received versions of the letter on four occasions via email. Breuer forwarded the emails to a personal account but told Congressional investigators in a written statement today he “cannot say for sure” whether he viewed the drafts.
Breuer, if you’ll recall, is the official who definitively knew ATF officials had, in the past and without any attempt to interdict them, allowed guns to reach the hands of Mexican drug cartel membersas a part of the Bush-era program Wide Receiver and as a part of Fast and Furious. Breuer supposedly never informed higher-ranking officials of his knowledge of the use of the controversial tactic when allegations about a repeat use surfaced in connection with Fast and Furious. His deputy, Jason Weinstein, also had knowledge of past gunrunning operations, but failed to connect the dots to OF&F.
Burke — the U.S. Attorney who has since resigned — not only denied use of the gunrunning tactic in the Feb. 4 letter to Congress, but actually argued that ATF should more vigorously deny the charge.
“What is so offensive about this whole project is that [Sen. Chuck] Grassley’s staff, acting as willing stooges for the Gun Lobby, have attempted to distract from the incredible success in dismantling [southwest border] gun trafficking operations … but, instead, lobbing this reckless despicable accusation that ATF is complicit in the murder of a fellow federal law enforcement officer,” Burke wrote in a Feb. 4 e-mail.
The sad irony of that is that guns found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry were eventually traced to Fast and Furious.
As Grassley’s spokeswoman said, these e-mails just raise more questions about OF&F and the DOJ’s lack of cooperation with the Congressional investigation into the program.