In a secret July 4 testimony before Congressional investigators, Kenneth Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), revealed important new details of Operation Fast and Furious, the international gunrunning scandal that Obama administration officials still refuse to clear up.
Today, Congressional investigators Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) followed up on that testimony by sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder just to let him know what they now know and to censure the Department of Justice for continuing to obstruct investigations into Project Gunwalker.
The key takeaways of the testimony, as relayed in the letter to Holder from Issa and Grassley:
- The ATF isn’t the only agency to bear some responsibility for the botched operation that sent guns to Mexico. The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Agency seem to have possessed information that could have had a material impact on Fast and Furious (i.e. info that could have eliminated or reduced the ostensible ‘need’ for the operation in the first place). Or, as the letter puts it, “We have very real indications from several sources that some of the gun trafficking ‘higher-ups’ that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants.”
- Taxpayer money was likely used to finance the gunrunning. “The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities.”
- Senior ATF officials would have preferred to cooperate with Congressional inquiries — but “Department of Justice officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress.”
- Melson was at no point asked to resign.
Perhaps this would have come out at Melson’s regularly scheduled testimony July 13, but it says something that Melson chose to meet secretly with Issa and Grassley and to be represented by his own personal counsel rather than DOJ and ATF counsel, who, obviously, would have had departmental interests (and the protection of higher officials, perhaps?) more in mind than what was best for Melson.
Trust Issa and Grassley to investigate this until they determine who was ultimately responsible. They clearly think it goes beyond Melson. This is how they concluded their letter:
Any decision about Mr. Melson’s future with the Department would need to be justified solely on the basis of the facts and the needs of the agency, rather than on his decision to speak to us. We encourage you to communicate to us any additional significant information about any such decision so that we can work together to ensure that it would not impede our investigation. For now, the Office of Inspector General is still conducting its review, and we are still conducting ours. 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.