The ranking Democrat on a House committee investigating the failed “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation wants the former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) called as a witness to better explain how the investigation originated and who authorized it.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said in a letter Friday to Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s ongoing investigation into Fast and Furious would not be “legitimate or credible” — without the public testimony of former ATF boss Kenneth E. Melson.
“A hearing with Mr. Melson would help the committee and the American people better understand what mistakes were made in Operation Fast and Furious, how these tactics originated, who did and did not authorize them, and what steps are being taken to ensure that they are not used again,” wrote Mr. Cummings.
The Maryland lawmaker, who has described the Fast and Furious operation as a “terrible mistake with tragic consequences,”said Mr. Melson’s testimony would allow the committee to focus on a “fair and responsible investigation that follows the facts where they lead, rather than drawing conclusions before evidence is gathered or ignoring information that does not fit into a preconceived narrative.”
Mr. Cummings noted in the letter that Chairman Issa had on several occasions over the past month called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about when he first became aware of the controversial tactics used in Fast and Furious. He said the attorney general has now agreed to testify before the Judiciary Committee on Dec. 8, when Mr. Issa will have another opportunity to question him directly.
Mr. Melson testified behind closed doors to the committee’s investigators in July, saying the Justice Department blocked senior ATF leaders from cooperating with Congress in its investigation of the Fast and Furious — ordering them not to respond to questions and taking full control of replying to briefing and document requests.
He originally had been scheduled by the Justice Department to be interviewed July 13, with attorneys from both the department and ATF present. Instead, he opted to appear before the investigators in a voluntary interview with his personal attorney, Richard Cullen.
Mr. Melson also told the investigators that some of the suspected gun traffickers targeted by ATF in the Fast and Furious probe may actually have been informants for the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — without ATF’s knowledge.
Mr. Cummings acknowledged that committee investigators had already conducted transcribed interviews with Mr. Melson and the former ATF Deputy Director William Hoover, during which they “expressed serious concerns about the controversial tactics” employed by ATF’s Phoenix field division in the Fast and Furious probe.
He said they also raised concerns about the manner in which the Justice Department responded to congressional inquiries.
“Both officials also stated that they had not been aware of the controversial tactics being used in Operation Fast and Furious, had not authorized those tactics, and had not informed anyone at the Department of Justice headquarters about them,” he said. “They stated that Operation Fast and Furious originated within the Phoenix Field Division, and that ATF headquarters failed to properly supervise it.”
Mr. Cummings said his staff has been in touch with Mr. Melson’s attorney, who reported that Mr. Melson “would be pleased to cooperate with the committee.”