- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday to immediately make public any information the Justice Department has on the existence of federal gunrunning operations in Texas and to reveal the source of weapons found at the February 2011 murder scene of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Jaime Zapata.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said in a letter to Mr. Holder that more than 19 months had passed since the veteran federal drug agent was gunned down during an ambush in Mexico and “his family deserves answers, not more stonewalling.”

Mr. Cornyn first asked the attorney general for information on the Zapata killing more than a year ago and received what he described as “a cursory response,” which said only that a review of the senator’s concerns was under way and he would be notified of its findings “as soon as possible.”

“Eleven months have passed since I received this response, and your department has failed to answer my questions,” he said in the letter. “This is unacceptable.”

Mr. Cornyn, in response to the congressional investigation into the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation, has pressed Justice to explain whether operations also took place in Texas.

He said the department’s reluctance to address allegations of additional gunrunning schemes in his state had raised serious questions, adding that similar efforts by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had significant “spillover effects” in Texas.

In two separate incidents in January and April 2010, he said 60 rifles that were “walked” during the Fast and Furious operation were recovered from criminals in El Paso, Texas.

Mr. Cornyn also noted that the attorney for a Houston gun dealer said ATF agents directed clerks to sell multiple firearms to suspicious buyers between 2006 and 2010, even when the clerks had grave concerns about the sales. He said store officials have said that ATF agents did not always show up to interdict the weapons they directed the clerks to sell.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler referred inquiries to the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which declined to comment.

The OIG’s office, however, acknowledged last week it was reviewing a letter from Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, that asked for an investigation of the Zapata killing.

The Cornyn letter comes in the wake of the fatal shooting Tuesday of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie, 30, in Arizona near the U.S.-Mexico border, the first such death since December 2010 when Agent Brian A. Terry was killed in a shootout north of Nogales, Ariz. Two Fast and Furious weapons were found at the scene of the Terry shooting.

Mr. Cornyn’s concerns have focused on whether weapons purchased during a gunrunning investigation in Texas were responsible for the Feb. 15, 2011, Zapata killing. One of the weapons used in that slaying was purchased in Texas on Oct. 10, 2010, and later traced to a Texas-based firearms smuggling ring managed by Ranferi Osorio and Kelvin Morrison.

Zapata was killed and his partner, Victor Avila, was wounded twice in the leg in an ambush on a major highway near San Luis Potosi, about 250 miles north of Mexico City. The agents, 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 was armed, as Mexico does not allow U.S. law enforcement personnel to carry weapons.

“As it stands, various sources, including sworn testimony and court documents, indicate that ATF not only allowed firearms to cross from Texas into Mexico but also asked Texas gun store owners to transfer weapons to suspected drug cartel agents,” Mr. Cornyn said in the letter.

Osorio and Morrison pleaded guilty in November 2011 to various firearms offenses. Osorio was sentenced in February to 120 months in prison and Morrison to 30 months.