Probers seek accountability for Fast & Furious
by Dave Workman
Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa may seem an unlikely pair, but they are currently “going along the same path” to find the truth about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious, and are determined to hold people accountable.
Issa, in a conference call that included Gun Week and several on-line journalists, said guns linked to Fast and Furious have been responsible for some 200 slayings in Mexico, and that the operation has seriously damaged US-Mexico relations. He also accused the Justice Department of “selectively leaking” certain Fast and Furious details, and of doing all possible to slow down Issa’s congressional investigation. His House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has already held hearings on the botched operation, and will hold more by the end of this year.
Grassley, in an exclusive telephone interview with Gun Week, said his probe has yielded volumes of information, and that he has been surprised at how big the scandal has become.
“It keeps getting bigger, and bigger and bigger,” he said.
The veteran Republican Iowa lawmaker also said his primary goals are to find those responsible and see them fired, and to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
In his conference call, Issa told reporters that “it is clear there were paid (FBI) informants who were involved in the straw purchasing” of firearms that were allowed to “walk” into Mexico and the hands of drug cartel gunmen. However, he said the administration has been uncooperative in providing information.
Responding to a question from Gun Week, Issa said he could use his role as a member of the House Judiciary to look at ways of reforming and/or restructuring the ATF, if that is ultimately deemed necessary after the investigation has run its course.
He also said that certain witnesses may still be called before the House committee to testify under oath, or they may be sworn to provide statements to committee investigators in an effort to save money. However, the interviews will be part of a public record, Issa promised, so people will be able to find out how this happened and why.
Grassley, meanwhile, acknowledged that his investigation, which began in late January, and Issa’s probe, which started a few weeks later, have essentially taken on the image of a cooperative effort. While his and Issa’s inquires remain separate, the senator confirmed that “We’re going down the same path.”
“There is so much cooperation that it is essentially one (investigation),” he explained.
Members of Grassley’s and Issa’s staffs talk daily, and keep each other up to speed, Grassley explained. There are, however, instances in which possible witnesses and whistleblowers approach only the senator’s office because of his long-standing reputation as a Capitol Hill oversight specialist.
Issa confirmed that the investigation has taken on a much larger role as it has expanded, because there are signs that Fast and Furious is not an isolated situation, but part of a pattern of the Obama administration.
“This is not about one sale or one group of sales,” Issa said, “it’s about a pattern of indifference about how you do operations…In this case, the administration took an active hand in letting guns walk.”
He was reacting to a question about what appear to have been similar operations uncovered by bloggers including National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh of Sipsey Street Irregulars. Those operations have been in Florida and Indiana.
Issa also suggested another pattern has emerged during his investigation: deniability. Officials in charge of agencies, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, may or may not have known all the details of Fast and Furious, but they probably should have.
“If Eric Holder didn’t know,” Issa said, “it’s because he didn’t want to know, or because he wasn’t doing his job.”
As for Napolitano, Issa observed, “She seems to know everything and is running everything until something goes wrong.”
Grassley is glad that Issa chairs a House committee that is holding hearings on the scandal, because that is not going to happen in the Democrat-controlled Senate, he said.
“Democrats running the Senate are not going to want any hearings that are going to embarrass this administration in any way,” Grassley contended.
The House hearings are allowing the story to get out, though. What has emerged, according to Grassley, is a story that is larger than he originally imagined. In recent weeks, revelations have included the allegation that the FBI has kept secret the recovery of a third gun at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December. It was always acknowledged that two AK-type rifles had been recovered at the crime scene and that they were linked to a Fast and Furious suspect, Jaime Avila, who was arrested within hours of Terry’s slaying.
However, the third gun was a mystery that surfaced in September, with both Fox News and CBS News reporting its existence, and CBS actually uncovering secretly-recorded taped conversations between an Arizona gun dealer and an ATF agent involved in the investigation that appear to confirm the recovery of a third rifle. That gun was allegedly being concealed in order to protect the identity of a confidential informant in one of the Mexican cartels.
Grassley told Gun Week that until he can get confirmation that the third rifle actually does exist, he was hesitant to suggest that this is more proof of an official cover-up.
Issa suggested that the reason a gun may have “disappeared” from the Terry crime scene is that once a connection was made with Fast and Furious, “people were panicking.” The same thing occurred in January after Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords was shot and a federal judge murdered at a Tucson mall where several other people were killed or wounded. Initially, Issa said people involved in Fast and Furious were worried that the gun used in the Giffords attack might also have been linked to that operation.
He also said that if there is a “smoking gun” in this investigation, it is the gun that “killed Brian Terry.”
Issa was especially critical of the Obama administration. Recalling that the Bush administration supported the Second Amendment and pushed for strong prosecutions of gun law violations, the current administration is lethargic about such prosecutions. Instead, he said, they launched Fast and Furious as an off-shoot of a Bush-era program called Project Gunrunner, designed to interdict guns before they got across the border to Mexico.
In this case, he suggested, instead of interdicting guns, the Obama administration “wanted to show” that guns recovered at Mexican crime scenes primarily were coming from this country. He acknowledged that one “conspiracy theory” is that the administration was using the operation to pad the numbers, but he remains unconvinced. It may also be, he suggested, that the administration possibly wanted to demonstrate that they could not get accurate information by cooperating with the Mexican government.
Both Grassley and Issa are confident that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable. To reach that point, they will continue digging for facts and following this case wherever it leads.
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