ATF tried "downplaying" Fast & Furious scandal to Congress

And apparently did some high-fiving about it later, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times this morning.  When Senator Charles Grassley started putting together reports of weapons found at the scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry with Operation Fast and Furious, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee started asking pointed questions about the ATF’s control of the gun sales it fostered for its tracking program.  ATF officials responded with deliberate obfuscation and evasiveness, reporter Richard Serrano writes:

Grassley started asking questions in late January, when he received tips that two of the weapons found near Terry’s body were Fast and Furious guns. He sent two letters to the ATF, saying that “this raises a host of serious questions that the ATF needs to address immediately.” He added that, if they were indeed Fast and Furious guns, then “the ATF may have become careless, if not negligent, in implementing” the program. …

Grassley asked whether the guns were “used” in the killing. According to agency emails obtained by the Tribune/Times Washington bureau, the Justice Department response to Grassley said that “these allegations are not true.” The response made no acknowledgement that the guns were even there.

ATF officials, speaking not for attribution because the inquiry is ongoing, said they saw a distinction between the guns being found at the scene and “used” in the killing. They said the FBI had determined that neither of the two AK-47 semiautomatics was the one that killed the agent.

The parsing of the response to Grassley fit a pattern of ATF and Justice Department officials seeking to minimize the depth of the problems with the sting operation run by the ATF’s Phoenix field office.

Be sure to read all of Serrano’s report; there is simply too much to excerpt under fair-use restrictions, but almost every paragraph is damning.  Go now.  I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, the need for Congressional intervention at ATF, and likely the DoJ, is clear.  Not only did a supervisor arguably break the whistleblower protection law (as we noted earlier) to keep information specifically from Grassley, the effort to shield ATF from Congressional oversight looks systematic.  Officials at the ATF and the DoJ sent backslapping e-mails congratulating each other over their ability to defy Grassley’s legitimate request on their monumental screw-up.  That effort (although perhaps not the backslapping) appears to involve Assistant AG Ronald Weich, who wrote the misleading response to Grassley in early February.  E-mails also suggest that Kenneth Melson may have known more about efforts to keep Grassley in the dark than Melson admitted in his recent testimony, although it’s possible that both men simply relied on what the supervisors told them without checking further.

Congress needs to assert its authority with immediacy and enthusiasm, and start putting everyone involved under oath.

Update: In very-much-related news, the DoJ’s Inspector General has opened a probe into possible violations of the whistleblower protection law:

The Justice Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation into possible retaliation against a whistle-blowing agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to two people briefed on the inquiry.

Watchdogs are examining whether anyone at the Justice Department improperly released internal correspondence to try to smear ATF agent John Dodson, who told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month that he repeatedly warned supervisors about what he called a reckless law enforcement operation known as “Fast and Furious.” …

Dodson and three other ATF agents told Congress in June that they had serious concerns about Fast and Furious, but they said they couldn’t get any of their supervisors to listen.

Now, the inspector general is looking into whether one of Dodson’s memos, written last year, may have been shared with reporters in an effort to raise doubts about the extent of his involvement in the operation and to discredit him.

PJM’s Bob Owens has followed this story closely since the beginning, and writes that Dodson wasn’t the only whistleblower who got shafted:

The Justice Department has been ruthless in dealing with the whistleblowers, who have blown the lid off an operation that saw the director-level involvement of every law enforcement entity within the DOJ, in addition to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and likely the State Department.

In addition to retaliating against Dodson, the DOJ stands accused of firing 30-year ATF Agent Vince Cefalu for his role in bringing this and other illegal operations to light at a website he helped found:

Cefalu ran afoul of the DOJ for criticizing the ATF for previous questionable operations, but his termination seems to have been in response to his stating that those government entities that participated in Gunwalker should be tried as criminals for conspiring to traffic in firearms.

Cefalu also claims that an Obama administration meme that large-scale gun smuggling operations were supplying the cartels was false, which likely drew even more scrutiny.

We’re just getting the tip of the iceberg here.  This will end badly for the Obama administration, unless they start cutting people loose.