Issa: Obama admin intimidating witnesses in ATF gun probe

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, suspects an effort by the Obama administration to intimidate witnesses from testifying before his House committee regarding the "Fast and Furious" ATF cross-border firearms investigation. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, suspects an effort by the Obama administration to intimidate witnesses from testifying before his House committee regarding the “Fast and Furious” ATF cross-border firearms investigation. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)

The Fast and Furious operation was halted in January after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was killed in a Dec. 15 shootout with Mexican bandits 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border near Rio Rico, Ariz. Authorities said two AK-47 assault rifles found at the scene were traced back to Fast and Furious “straw buyers.”

Mr. Issa said the ATF operation showed a “callous disregard for what those weapons can and have done to Mexican citizens and even to one, perhaps two U.S. citizens and probably more before it is over.” His comment referred to new information that another weapon found at the scene of the ambush killing Feb. 15 of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Jaime Zapata also was traced back to a straw buyer.

President Obama and Mr. Holder have both disavowed the program, and Mr. Holder said it was running without their approval.

Told of Mr. Issa’s concerns, Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler referred questions about the attorney general’s knowledge back to remarks in March when he said he referred concerns raised by ATF agents to the department’s Office of Inspector General, who is conducting an investigation.

When ATF field agents first began to question the Fast and Furious program, they received an email from their supervisor, David J. Voth, who wrote, “We all need to get along and realize that we have a mission to accomplish.” In a March 12, 2010, email, Mr. Voth said he was “thrilled and proud” his group was involved and assured the agents that “people of rank and authority at HQ are paying close attention.

“It may sound cheesy, but we are the tip of the ATF spear when it comes to Southwest border firearms trafficking. I will be damned if this case is going to suffer due to petty arguing, rumors or other adolescent behavior,” he wrote. “If you don’t think this is fun, you’re in the wrong line of work — period.

“This is the pinnacle of domestic U.S. law enforcement techniques. After this, the toolbox is empty,” he said. “Maybe the Maricopa County Jail is hiring detention officers, and you can get paid $30,000 (instead of $100,000) to serve lunch to inmates all day.”

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