Two years after weapons found at the site of the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent were traced to the failed Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation, a senior House Republican who led committee hearings into the shooting and the operation says there has been "real accountability" for those whose actions contributed to the death and Justice Department officials who failed to properly oversee the operation.
"Two years after the tragic death of Brian A. Terry, Americans remember his legacy of service to his country in the Marine Corps and the Border Patrol," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.
The California lawmaker said former Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler and Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein both have left the Justice Department in the wake of the probe and several others have left or are in the process of losing their jobs.
"Before final closure can be brought to this matter, the Justice Department must hand over critical documents showing what it really knew while it denied wrongdoing for months," he said. "If the Justice Department does not change course and agree to produce these documents, I am confident the court will rule appropriately on the lawsuit authorized by a congressional vote that included the support of twenty-one House Democrats."
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, first began the investigation into Fast and Furious, tweeting earlier this month that, "Heads are beginning to roll nearly two years after the Fast and Furious gunwalker scandal first came to light." He noted that William McMahon, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) official who was in charge of field operations during the controversial operation, had been fired, and other ATF managers reportedly face similar fates.
Mr. Grindler, who served as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s chief of staff, announced his resignation on Dec. 3. A report on Fast and Furious by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said Mr. Grindler received a briefing about Fast and Furious in March 2010, but the briefing "failed to alert Mr. Grindler to problems in the investigation."
The report said Mr. Grindler learned three days after the Terry death of the link between weapons found at the scene of the killing and the Fast and Furious operation, but did not tell Mr. Holder. It said he should have informed the attorney general as well as made "an appropriate inquiry" of ATF, which ran the probe, or the U.S. attorney's office about the connection.
Mr. Weinstein resigned in September as deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Criminal Division. The Inspector General's report said he reviewed Fast and Furious wiretap applications and should have asked more questions about the botched operation. The report said he was the most senior department official in a position to stop Fast and Furious.
Late in the evening of Dec. 14, 2010, Terry, 40, a native of Michigan and a U.S. Marine veteran, was on patrol with three other agents in Peck Canyon near Rio Rico, Ariz., about a dozen miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The agents spotted a group of five suspected illegal immigrants, at least two of whom were carrying rifles.
As the agents approached, one of the suspects fired at them. The agents returned fire. In the midst of the gunfight, Terry was struck in the back. Four of the shooters fled, though one of them had been wounded and was unable to leave the scene. Though Terry was fully conscious after being wounded, his bleeding could not be stopped and he died in the desert during the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2010, while the group waited for medical assistance to arrive.
When help finally did arrive, Mr. Issa said investigators recovered two AK-47 variant semi-automatic assault rifles at the scene. Traces conducted later that day showed that the weapons had been purchased on Jan. 16, 2010, by a then-23-year-old "straw buyer" named Jaime Avila Jr. — a target of the ATF Fast and Furious operation.
ATF officials have said the goal of the operation was to dismantle an arms trafficking network in Mexico, although agents lost track of the weapons that had been transported or "walked" into Mexico.
Earlier this week, Avila was sentenced to 57 months in prison with three years supervised probation.
ATF shut down Fast and Furious after the weapons were found near Terry's body. The killing led to public testimony by ATF agents opposed to the operation, who said more than 2,000 weapons had been walked to drug smugglers in Mexico, about 1,400 of which are still unaccounted for.
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