- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An amendment offered by a Texas Republican to prohibit taxpayer funds from being used by the Justice Department to conduct gunrunning investigations similar to the failed “Fast and Furious” operation passed unanimously Tuesday in the Senate with bipartisan support.

Sen. John Cornyn, a senior member of the SenateJudiciary Committee, sought the amendment to the $128 billion Justice Department spending bill amid reports that investigations similar to the Arizona-based Fast and Furious, which he called “ill-advised,” were under way in other areas, including Texas.

“Todays bipartisan effort is just the first step towards ensuring that such a foolish operation can never be repeated by our own law enforcement,” Mr. Cornyn said. “The onus is now on Attorney General Holder to hear not just todays bipartisan call for answers but the American peoples demands that Washington be held accountable.”

The amendment, which passed 99-0, prohibits the use of taxpayer funds “to allow the knowing transfer of firearms to agents of drug cartels where law enforcement personnel of the United States do not continuously monitor or control such firearms at all times.”

Mr. Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in August demanding that the senator’s staff be briefed on the “scope and details of any past or present ATF gun-walking programs” in Texas. In the letter, he noted that the Arizona operation had “tragic consequences” and that his Texas constituents deserved “a full accounting.”

In the letter, he wrote that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives supervisors who oversaw Fast and Furious had instructed federally licensed firearms dealers in the Phoenix area to illegally sell weapons to straw buyers working for drug cartels in Mexico and that ATF field agents had been “ordered by their superiors to ignore well-established practices and refrain from interdicting these weapons before they flowed into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

“Sadly, this ill-advised program had tragic consequences, with these ‘walked’ weapons showing up at the scene of multiple violent crimes — including the murder of United States Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry” along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, rose on the Senate floor to support the amendment, saying Mr. Cornyn and others who have investigated the Fast and Furious operation were entitled to “get some answers” from Mr. Holder about the ATF-led probe.

“People at the local level … should have answers from their own government about what they are doing,” she said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member of the SenateJudiciary Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have been investigating Fast and Furious for several months.

They said more than 2,000 weapons were sold to straw buyers in Arizona from September 2009 to December 2010 and later delivered to Mexican drug smugglers — about half of which remain unaccounted for.

Agent Terry was killed during a shootout with Mexican bandits just north of the border town of Nogales, Ariz. Two AK-47 assault rifles purchased as part of the Fast and Furious investigation were found at the scene.

ATF stopped the program on Dec. 15, 2010, a day after the agent’s death. The operation is now being investigated by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has called on President Obama to instruct the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to determine whether members of Congress were misled by Mr. Holder during his testimony on what he knew about Fast and Furious.