Cornyn urging wider probe of ‘Fast and Furious’

‘Spillover effects’ in Texas cited

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell E. Issa on Monday to expand their formal “Fast and Furious” investigation to include accusations that similar gunrunning probes took place in Texas.

Mr. Cornyn said he asked U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in August to address the “scope and details of any past or present ATF gun-walking programs” in his home state, but never got a response.

“Though their failure to respond is not direct evidence of malfeasance, the department’s reluctance to address allegations of additional ‘gun-walking’ schemes in my state raises serious questions, and Texans deserve a full accounting of the department’s role in this matter,” he wrote.

Mr. Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “gun-walking” schemes have had significant “spillover effects” in Texas. In two separate incidents in January and April 2010, 60 rifles that were “walked” during the Fast and Furious operation were recovered from criminals in El Paso, Texas.

He said the attorney for a federal firearms licensee (FFL) in Houston has charged that his employees were ordered by ATF to conduct suspicious sales of firearms to purchasers who may have been working on behalf of Mexican drug cartels.

Last December, he said, the Justice Department convened a grand jury to investigate whether several salespersons at the Houston gun dealers were criminally liable for selling weapons to straw purchasers. The investigation, he said, was dropped only after the licensed firearms dealers revealed that the illicit sales were carried out at the behest of the ATF.

“I fear that ATF may have pressured other FFLs in Texas to conduct illegal activities, and that many of these weapons may have ended up in the hands of cartels and at the scene of multiple violent crimes in Mexico,” Mr. Cornyn said.

He also asked that the investigation include a look into whether a Texas-based “gun-walking” program was responsible for the slaying of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata on Feb. 15, 2011, in Mexico. One of the weapons used to kill Zapata was purchased by Texas resident Otilio Osorio in October 2010 and, according to Mr. Cornyn, later trafficked to Mexico through Laredo, Texas.

Zapata was fatally shot, and his partner, Victor Avila, was wounded twice in the leg in the ambush on a major highway near the city of San Luis Potosi, about 250 miles north of Mexico City. The men, assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, were returning to their office after a meeting with other U.S. personnel in San Luis Potosi.

Neither man was armed, as Mexico does not allow U.S. law enforcement personnel to carry weapons in the country.

Mr. Osorio, 22, and his brother, Ranferi, 27, were arrested at their home on charges of possessing firearms with an obliterated serial number. Kelvin Leon Morrison, 25, also was arrested and charged in a separate complaint with making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms and dealing in firearms without a license. He lives next door to the Osorios.

According to court documents, a confidential ATF informant arranged a meeting in early November with people who had firearms to be transported from Dallas to Laredo. The meeting was arranged as part of an investigation of Los Zetas, a violent and ruthless Mexican drug-trafficking gang.

Mr. Cornyn said evidence uncovered by Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, suggests that the ATF was aware of Mr. Osorio’s weapons-trafficking activities “long before that date.”

“The delay in his arrest raises concerns that the ATF knowingly allowed Osorio to continue trafficking weapons through Texas as part of a broader ‘gun-walking’ program,” he said, adding in his letter that he supported efforts by the two lawmakers “to hold the Department of Justice accountable for their involvement in the Operation Fast and Furious tragedy.”

“American tax dollars should never again be spent to arm Mexican drug cartels,” he said.

In the Arizona-based Fast and Furious operation, 20 “straw buyers” purchased more than 2,000 weapons between September 2009 and December 2010, many of which were walked into Mexico and turned over the Mexican drug smugglers. The weapons included AK-47 assault weapons, Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifles, FN 5.7mm semi automatic pistols and other assorted rifles, shotguns and handguns — many of which remain unaccounted for.

The straw buyers paid as much as $900,000 for the weapons, with much of the illicit cash being furnished by the drug cartels.

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