Saying they’ve been stonewalled for a year, the House’s top investigator sent a subpoena Thursday demanding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives turn over documents on a storefront sting operation that went badly awry.
In one instance a Milwaukee storefront operation had $35,000 in merchandise stolen from ATF agents, including an automatic rifle, according to a report in the Journal-Sentinel newspaper, which uncovered the botched program, known as Operation Fearless.
But in the year since the operation was revealed, ATF has refused to provide details to Congress, despite repeatedly assuring investigators it would cooperate, said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and House Oversight Committee chairman.
“Nominated to lead ATF in the wake of the reckless Operation Fast and Furious, you were ultimately confirmed as director with an expectation that you would clean up field operations and end the reckless behavior that has defined ATF in recent years,” Mr. Issa wrote in a letter to Director Todd Jones. “The time for hollow promises is over. Regrettably, I must now compel you to produce the requested documents.”
Mr. Issa set a March 31 deadline for receiving the documents, which the committee said includes operational plans, the authorizations that let ATF agents sell weapons, and investigative reports from operations in six cities where investigators believe ATF conducted storefront operations.
The latest investigation comes two years after the House cited Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for contempt for refusing to turn over documents on Operation Fast and Furious, an ATF program that was supposed to track firearms purchases to catch illegal transfers, but which lost track of thousands of guns. Many of those guns turned up at crime scenes, including the shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Despite the contempt proceeding, Mr. Holder is still refusing to turn over documents. The House has taken him to court to try to force his hand.
In the new subpoenas, Mr. Issa said Mr. Jones has repeatedly promised to cooperate, but a year later, hasn’t turned over anything.
ATF didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.
Last January, the Journal-Sentinel reported that ATF opened a storefront operation named Fearless Distributing that was designed to bust felons trying to buy guns and drugs. But the paper reported the operation “has not snared any major drug dealers or taken down a gang. Instead, it resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen.”
Then in late 2013, the Journal-Sentinel said there were a handful of other cities that had similar storefront sting operations and saw similar problems.
Mr. Issa and fellow congressional investigators said ATF officials had previously “conveyed the impression” to them that the Milwaukee problems were isolated.
The congressional investigators, who included Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Reps. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, have written repeated letters, but said they’ve gotten no written replies to any of their requests.