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Lawmakers want answers about ATF gun operation

FBI, DEA had roles in sales that ended up in Mexico

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Republican lawmakers investigating a controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives weapons operation known as "Fast and Furious" have asked the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration to explain what role their agents played in the investigation.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Darrell Issa of California, concerned that the operation allowed weapons to be purchased by known "straw buyers" in this country and then later "walked" to drug smugglers in Mexico, want FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart to turn over additional information and documents involving an undercover investigation they described as "reckless."

The requests were included in letters sent Friday in response to a recorded, transcribed interview with Acting ATF Director Kenneth E. Melson, who told congressional investigators July 4 that other federal agencies were involved in the operation.

Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa asked Mr. Mueller about the "veracity of claims" regarding the possible involvement of paid FBI informants in the Fast and Furious operation, including at least one who "might have been in communication with, and was perhaps even conspiring with, at least one suspect whom ATF was monitoring."

Mrs. Leonhart was asked to make her staff available for a briefing and to turn over information on the number of informants handled by other agencies identified in the course of any investigation related to the Fast and Furious operation.

Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa have been looking into accusations that Fast and Furious, part of an anti-gun initiative known as "Project Gunrunner," allowed thousands of weapons to be purchased by straw buyers in Arizona and Texas that later were taken unchecked across the border to drug smugglers in Mexico.

At least three of those weapons, including two AK-47 assault rifles, later were found at the site of separate shootings that claimed the lives of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata and U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry.

Mr. Melson, during two interviews with congressional investigators, said the senior leadership at ATF wanted to cooperate in the congressional probe but were stopped by Justice Department officials who took control of all briefing and document requests. Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa have accused Justice of "muzzling" the director.

The acting ATF boss testified that some of the suspected gun traffickers targeted by ATF in the Fast and Furious probe might have been working with the FBI and DEA without ATF's knowledge. He also confirmed concerns expressed by several ATF agents during recent testimony before Mr. Issa's committee that while they witnessed the transfer of weapons from the straw buyers to others, they were not allowed to follow the guns as they made their way to Mexico.

Mr. Melson told investigators he became aware of "this startling possibility" only after Mr. Terry was killed in December. He said he was "sick to his stomach" when he learned about problems with the operation.

In their letter, the two lawmakers asked Mr. Mueller to turn over all communications relating to Fast and Furious involving FBI personnel in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas.

Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa told the FBI chief that Fast and Furious allowed "approximately 2,000 heavy-duty assault type firearms to be illegally trafficked" and that "hundreds of these weapons have already been recovered at crime scenes in Mexico."

They want to know how many paid FBI informants, prospective informants or cooperating defendants were in communication with any of the ATF suspects or their associates under Fast and Furious and for the bureau to give details on the contacts.

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