Earlier today the Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney General Eric Holder walked into the line of fire when he appeared in front of the House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) disastrous “Fast and Furious” investigation.
The Attorney General took rapid fire questions from GOP representatives seeking answers for the failed “gunwalking” program that resulted in the murder of at least one Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, and more than 200 Mexican citizen deaths. From the get go Mr. Holder made it clear that the approximately 2,000 high-powered guns that ATF let “walk” into Mexico will turn up at crime scenes in both countries for years to come.
However, the day-long hearing revealed little new information and yielded no acceptance of responsibility from Holder. He simply doubled-down on DOJ’s innocence regarding the (mis) handling of the botched gun-running investigation.
It’s been almost a year since Border Patrol Agent Terry was callously gunned-down in the Arizona desert by “rip crew” bandits using guns the U.S. government let “walk” into the hands of brutal Mexican drug cartels. During the past year, Agent Terry’s family has witnessed a cover-up by ATF and DOJ and seen no compassion or concern from Mr. Holder regarding the murder of their son.
Instead, the agent’s murder has resulted in a firestorm of inquiry for ATF and DOJ led by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee. Despite Issa’s vigorous inquisition, the DOJ still has not told Congress who knew what, and when.
It was just a week ago when the AG’s office asked for a “mulligan” on a letter their office issued to Congress that misstated “Fast and Furious” facts. The DOJ letter stated that ATF’s fatally-flawed “gunwalking” investigation did not allow guns to walk across the border and into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The DOJ letter lied and ATF did allow guns to leave their jurisdiction and cross the Mexican border.
This led Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to ask AG Holder a direct question regarding the art of lying; “Tell me what’s the difference between lying and misleading Congress, in this context?”
Holder’s reply seemed like a non-answer. “Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie,” Holder admitted. “The information that was provided by the February 4th letter was gleaned by the people who drafted the letter after they interacted with people who they thought were in the best position to have the information.”
Holder’s answer harkened back to President Bill Clinton’s definition of “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
Nevertheless Republican committee members echoed the same mantra all day- that heads needed to roll for the failed Fast and Furious investigation. And, it appears the Obama Administration is positioning Holder’s long-time friend, confidant and DOJ Assistant AG of the Criminal Division underling Lanny Breuer to be the fall guy.
It was recently discovered emails discussing the ATF “gunwalking” operation that provoked Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley to call for Breuer’s firing earlier this week.
“The real shock was how Mr. Breuer had responded within his own Department when earlier ‘gunwalking’ was first brought to his attention in April 2010. He didn’t tell the Attorney General. He didn’t tell the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff. He didn’t tell the Deputy Attorney General. He didn’t tell the Inspector General. Instead, he simply told his deputy to meet with ATF leadership and inform them of the ‘gunwalking’ so they knew the bad stuff that could come out,” Grassley said.
The final squabble of the day squared Rep. Issa’s sharp- tongue questions surrounding Holder’s continued stonewalling tactics of Fast and Furious. Issa reminded the Attorney General that he could be held in contempt of Congress if he continued to block Congressional members request for documents, to which Holder replied; “Have you no shame?”
But Issa countered Holder’s political gamesmanship with; “No, have you no shame?”
Up next – House committee members will now flood Eric Holder’s office with a litany of follow-up questions, but the answers will not be disclosed until after the holiday season. Stay tuned for more ATF Fast and Furious updates.
© Copyright 2011 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.
Two federal law enforcement agents are dead and new documents show Jamie Avila was in possession of two of the guns that were found at murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s crime scene. Questions from Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) point to Alcohol Tobacco and Firearm’s (ATF) Project Gunwalker as possibly being involved in the killing of the agents.
In a letter dated March 16th from Senator Grassley to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Alan Bersin, the senator demands answers regarding the facts in which straw purchaser Jamie Avila was pulled over by CBP agents last summer along the U.S. border with dozens of weapons in his vehicle but was eventually released by (ATF) or with an Assistant U.S. Attorney General’s blessing. This letter also confirms that multiple government agencies knew about the gun-walking program.
The letter reads in part; “CBP officials allegedly stopped Jamie Avila near the border in the spring or summer of 2010. He allegedly had the two WASR-10 rifles in his possession that were later found at the scene of Agent Brian Terry’s murder, along with over thirty additional weapons. CBP officials contacted ATF or an Assistant United States Attorney who allegedly instructed CBP to allow Avila to proceed without seizing the weapons.”
Senator Grassley goes on to inform CBP Commissioner Bersin that he had they better be prepared to answer questions about this incident.
Also Grassley found it troubling that after the murder of two federal agents that ATF didn’t suspend the controversial “gun walking” program sometime last year after they ran into trouble in New Mexico.
“First, on March 8, 2011, federal authorities indicted 11 defendants, including the Mayor and a Police Chief of a small town in New Mexico, for conspiring to smuggle weapons from the United States into Mexico. According to the indictment, on January 14, 2010, Blas Gutierrez and Migel Carillo were pulled over near the border and were found in possession of eight weapons, including three AK-47 type pistols,” Grassley points out in the letter to CBP Commissioner Bersin. “Also according to the indictment, two of the weapons were later smuggled to Mexico, where they were found this month, March 2011.”
Grassley indicates that CBP allegedly stopped the vehicle and after a few questions they let the guns “walk.”
As a result, Border Patrol Agent Terry’s December 16 murder has been racked with secrecy, even though two of the weapons recovered at the scene were part of a controversial ATF “gun walking program.” Multiple sources from the region have reported a virtual lock down of any information regarding Agent Terry’s murder. “Active BP agents have been told to keep quiet or they risk their jobs,” says one retired Border Patrol agent who lives in southern Arizona.
Another retired agent G. Alan Ferguson, author of nafbpo.org/M3 Report says “retired border agents stand with Border Patrol and will not rest until the murderer of Agent Terry is arrested, tried and jailed.”
The controversial ATF program “Fast and Furious” has been credited with ties to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jamie Zapata’s murder in Mexico as well.
“Operation Fast and Furious” is the program where ATF agents allowed straw buyers (folks who ultimately buy weapons for bad guys like drug cartels) to purchase weapons from gun dealers and let them “walk” south into Mexico. ATF’s Management says they were following these guns, with the help of serial numbers and Mexican authorities, in order to ensnare powerful drug cartel leaders.
It didn’t work and Americans now know thousands of these “walked guns” made their way into the hands of cartel members and most likely will be used to kill numerous Mexican and American nationals.
This outrageous program was initially devised by ATF to turn the tide in Mexico’s drug cartel violence. It tries to trace straw purchased guns as they made their way south of the border. However, retired INS Agent Michael Cutler with 30 years of experience says the notion that any law enforcement officials would allow a gun to walk is ridiculous. “It would be like offering cocktails to drivers at a DUI checkpoint. Guns kill people and it was only a matter of time before these trafficked guns would be responsible for taking a life. Explain to me how this program makes us safer?”
Unfortunately the thousands of weapons that have made their way into the Mexican narco-state will be the proverbial “gift that keeps on giving.”
Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath – “First do no harm” and the time has come for ATF to answer questions surrounding a program that will continue for decade’s to be a part of crime scenes, according to Cutler. “This flies in face of law enforcement.”
Moving forward Americans need to connect the dots and of course follow-up on the details surrounding Agents Terry’s and Zapata’s murders which still remain a mystery.
For example, in the case of Zapata, there was a witness. Zapata’s partner, Victor Avila, also an ICE HSI agent, who suffered a superficial leg wound during the gun battle in Mexico. According to a government source, both agents were hit with bullets despite strict instructions that agents are not allowed to roll down their bullet-proof windows (which only roll down 30 percent anyways) unless they know the person (s) outside the car. The Zapata crime scene investigations also confirm there were approximately 80 empty shell casings left behind by alleged cartel members. Reports also confirm Zapata rolled down his driver-side SUV window. Did he know his killer? Why was his partner spared?
Last year this reporter published an in-depth story about the 90-percent myth (the number of guns taken to Mexico from America). As word of the smuggled guns grew, so did international concern. A Wikileaks cable recently acknowledged that 90 percent of the drug cartel heavy arsenal comes from Central America- not Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Information the Mexican government knows, but with the 90-percent myth floating around the U.S. airwaves, Mexico continues to receive millions of dollars to combat drug cartel violence.
It also appears the waning media coverage surrounding ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious” has compelled leaders within ATF to dismiss the seriousness of upcoming Senate hearings. Senator Grassley’s office continues its investigation into the reckless program, but with limited success in obtaining documents that would shed significant light on “Fast and Furious.”
And CBS News has confirmed ATF Acting Director, Kenneth Melson, has dismissed the Senate investigation altogether and will not attend the scheduled hearing, claiming the Senate subcommittee doesn’t have jurisdiction, Melson claims (and it does) that authority falls under President Obama’s right-hand man, Eric Holder, at the Department of Justice.
However, the newly-elected Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa (R-CA), has demanded answers from leaders at ATF. President Obama finally weighed in on the “Fast and Furious” discussion this last weekend when he told a Mexican news reporter that neither he nor Eric Holder had any knowledge of the rogue gun operation. (Watch this column for more on this soon).
While Issa claims that while Americans should be able to trust the president, he would like to hear from the Attorney General, Eric Holder himself. “The Attorney General is going to have to say what he knew and when he knew it- and, if he didn’t know it, who in his hierarchy did know and when they knew it?” Issa said. The folks at DOJ as well as Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, have until April 12 to provide the documents requested by Issa’s office.
According to media reports, ATF has lost track of hundreds of firearms. ATF whistleblower, agent John Dodson, explained to CBS News he was “ordered to allow the trafficking of guns to Mexico.” The agent says his office was attempting to build a case against the Mexican gunrunners.
“The idea was to see where the guns ended up, build a big case and take down a cartel. And it was all kept secret from Mexico,” Dodson told CBS.
Why all the secrecy?
While Department of Homeland Security leader, Janet Napolitano, may be “deeply saddened” by the death of both federal agents, it remains to be seen if DHS is fully engaged in the investigation that spans two countries. Connecting the dots between the murders and other government-gone wild programs only emphasizes the need for intra-agency transparency. Did the U.S. government know the murderers of these agents and could the straw-purchased sales of weapons leave the administration complicit in their murders? Time will tell… maybe.
The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward and the Mexican government is also offering a $10 million pesos (probably U.S. money from the Merida Initiative) for the information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for the murder of Jamie Zapata. Those with information can visit https://tips.fbi.gov or http://www.recompensas.gob.mx.
© Copyright 2011 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.