New fury surrounds ‘Fast and Furious’
by Gun Week staff
The US Attorney’s office in Phoenix, AZ, that was deeply involved in launching and maintaining Operation Fast and Furious has opposed a move by the family of a slain Border Patrol agent to be considered “crime victims,” a move that has created new outrage in the gun rights community.
US Attorney Dennis Burke, according to a legal expert interviewed by Fox News, might have a conflict because his office was heavily involved in the botched gun trafficking sting operation mounted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). That now-defunct operation is under investigation by Congress and also by the Department of Justice Inspector General.
The motion was filed on behalf of agent Brian Terry’s parents, Kent and Josephine Terry. Such motions are reportedly “routinely approved” by prosecutors. The Terrys sought the court’s approval to intervene in the federal prosecution of Jaime Avila, who purchased the two rifles recovered at the scene of Terry’s murder last December. Avila is among 20 suspects indicted earlier this year by Burke’s office in the Operation Fast and Furious investigation.
Burke opposes their entry as victims in the case, arguing that they are not victims as defined under the federal Crime Victim Rights Act (CVRA). Instead, he contends, the victim in the Terry case is “society in general.” Burke also said that Brian Terry was “undeniably a murder victim,” but that he is “not a victim of Defendant Avila’s firearm offenses as the CVRA defines ‘victim’.”
National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea broke the story about Burke’s opposition, recalling that the US Attorney was formerly chief of staff for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The Terry family testified before Congressman Darrell Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in early June. They revealed what appeared like complete indifference by the Justice Department to their requests for information about how Brian Terry died and the circumstances surrounding his murder.
Fox News interviewed Kendall Coffey, former US Attorney in Florida and now a “prominent litigator,” about Burke’s controversial move. Coffey was quoted stating that “government leaders responsible for the tragic mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious have a lot of explaining to do before Congress. But at the same time, they still have a duty under federal law to give answers, to consult and extend respect to the family.”
He further suggested that Burke is in a tough legal position.
“The government’s already been put on notice that they might be facing a wrongful death action by the family,” Coffey told Fox News. “And you have to wonder if the government’s efforts to deny the family the status of ‘crime victims’ is part of a strategy to avoid legal responsibility for some of the tragic mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious.”
Independent blogger Mike Vanderboegh, who, along with Codrea, originally uncovered the Fast and Furious scandal, called Burke’s opposition to the Terry family’s motion “the banality of evil.”
According to Fox News, Burke and Assistant US Attorney Emory Hurley will be called to testify this month before Issa’s committee as the congressman renews his investigation of the Fast and Furious debacle. Hurley reportedly managed the Fast and Furious operation for the US Attorney’s office, although it was conducted by the ATF.
The Justice Department may now become the focus of Issa’s investigation. The Los Angeles Times reported that e-mails, memos and other documents, including sworn depositions, point to that agency as having “provided the initial impetus for what became Fast and Furious.”
Yet Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly insisted that he did not approve the operation and that he only became aware of it in early spring 2011 after media reports revealed the trouble. This is a position that has been disputed by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who said in an interview that he personally handed Holder copies of two letters he sent to Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson in late January that inquired about Fast and Furious, and its umbrella operation, Project Gunrunner.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported in early August that just a few months into Operation Fast and Furious, an agency official called for a strategy to shut down the program.
aimed at following guns into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
In March 2010, the No. 2 man at the ATF was deeply worried. His agents had lost track of hundreds of firearms. Some of the guns, supposed to have been tracked to Mexican drug cartels, were lost right after they cleared the gun stores.
Five months into Fast and Furious, no indictments had been announced and no charges were immediately expected. Worse, the weapons had turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and the ATF official was worried that someone in the United States could be hurt next.
Acting Deputy Director William Hoover called an emergency meeting and said he wanted an “exit strategy” to shut down the program. ATF for decades had dedicated itself to stopping illegal gun-trafficking of any kind, the newspaper reported, but said it now was allowing illegal gun purchases on the Southwest border and letting weapons “walk” unchecked into Mexico.
But those at the meeting, which included a Justice Department official, did not want to stop the illegal gun sales “until they had something to show for their efforts.”
By January 2010, agents with the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force run by the Justice Department were brought in to help. The manpower included investigators from the Homeland Security Department, the Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
But the ATF, which apparently didn’t have the resources to follow so many guns, soon lost track of many of them. And when they did follow them to the next level, the buyers of the guns often turned out to be Mexicans living legally in the US and not cartel honchos.
It would seem that after Terry was killed on Dec. 14, 2010, and two of the three evidence guns were found to be from the Fast and Furious operation, the operation continued for several weeks into 2011.
That’s apparently when some unhappy ATF staffers first started talking to Congress.
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