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Heads Roll In Wake of BATFE “Fast and Furious” Scandal

Friday, September 2, 2011

In the latest development in the on-going Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) “Fast and Furious” scandal, the Department of Justice announced this week the appointment of U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones to serve as Acting Director of BATFE, replacing Kenneth Melson.  The DOJ also announced that Dennis Burke, U.S. attorney for the district of Arizona, has resigned.  And the Wall Street Journal reported that Emory Hurley, the assistant U.S. attorney responsible for the day-to-day operations of “Fast and Furious,” has been removed from his post and reassigned to the department’s Civil Division.

As we have frequently noted in this Alert, the reckless and utterly failed BATFE operation known as “Operation Fast And Furious” was run out of the BATFE’s field office in Phoenix.  The bungled operation put thousands of guns into the hands of violent criminals in Mexico.

The more information comes out about “Fast and Furious,” the more clear it seems that knowledge of the operation, and approval for it, went higher than the Phoenix field office, or even BATFE.  There is clear evidence, uncovered by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee headed by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), that senior Obama Administration officials were aware of this disastrous operation.  And as the evidence continues to mount, it’s looking more and more likely that what we’re seeing unfold is a large-scale cover-up. 

A Thursday Fox News story reported that federal officials quickly tried to cover up evidence that a gun found at the scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder was one the government intentionally helped sell to the Mexican cartels via the “Fast and Furious” program.  The article also reported that late Thursday, the office of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, revealed that 21 more “Fast and Furious” guns have been found at violent crime scenes in Mexico, up from 11 the agency admitted to just last month.  According to the article, Sen. Grassley and Rep. Issa said Thursday they are expanding their investigation into the scandal, and have sent a strongly worded letter to Anne Scheel, the new U.S. attorney for Arizona, requesting interviews, e-mails, memos and even hand-written notes from members of the U.S. Attorney's office that played key roles in the failed program. 

Regarding this week’s shake-up, Rep. Issa released the following statement:  "While the reckless disregard for safety that took place in Operation Fast and Furious certainly merits changes within the Department of Justice, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation to ensure that blame isn't offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department. There are still many questions to be answered about what happened in Operation Fast and Furious and who else bears responsibility, but these changes are warranted and offer an opportunity for the Justice Department to explain the role other officials and offices played in the infamous efforts to allow weapons to flow to Mexican drug cartels. I also remain very concerned by Acting Director Melson's statement that the Department of Justice is managing its response in a manner intended to protect its political appointees. Senator Grassley and I will continue to press the Department of Justice for answers in order to ensure that a reckless effort like Fast and Furious does not take place again."

Sen. Grassley released this statement:  "[This week’s] announcement is an admission by the Obama administration that serious mistakes were made in Operation Fast and Furious, and is a step in the right direction that they are continuing to limit any further damage that people involved in this disastrous strategy can do.  There's a lot of blame to go around. As our investigation moves forward, and we get to the bottom of this policy, I wouldn't be surprised to see more fall out beyond the resignations and new assignments announced today.  The Justice Department and the ATF have yet to answer a majority of the questions and still must produce many of the documents Congressman Issa and I have asked for. We're looking for a full accounting from the Justice Department as to who knew what and when, so we can be sure that this ill-advised strategy never happens again."

And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said:  "The announcement by the Department of Justice to reassign Kenneth Melson is not the resolution Congress and the American people need. This move by the Administration indicates that Director Melson may be being used as a scapegoat for a much larger problem within ATF and DOJ. It appears that other senior officials at DOJ may have been involved in this deadly operation. The American people and Congress will not be appeased until we have the whole truth about how and why Operation Fast and Furious was authorized. Congress will not ignore an agency so out of control that its decisions and operations cost American lives."

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder has insisted that he knew absolutely nothing about “Fast and Furious.”  As the investigation continues, hopefully we’ll find out if that unlikely insistence is the truth.

Stay tuned to future Grassroots Alerts for new developments.

To listen to an interview with NRA Executive Vice President Wayne R. LaPierre regarding this week’s BATFE shake-up, please click here.

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