Obama Takes ATF Gun-Running Operation ‘Very Seriously,’ Spokesman Says

By Fred Lucas | July 6, 2011 | 5:40 AM EDT

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, March, 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday deflected questions about a botched ATF sting operation that allowed guns to “walk” to Mexico, but he did tell reporters, “You could assume that the president takes this very seriously.”

As part of “Operation Fast and Furious,” the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives knowingly allowed some 2,000 guns purchased in the U.S. to flow to Mexican criminals – to see where they would end up. But ATF lost track of many of the weapons. Two of the “straw-purchased” guns were later found in Arizona, at the scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent’s murder in December.

On Tuesday, Carney declined to answer whether ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson would testify about Operation Fast and Furious to Congress. A congressional oversight report indicated that people at the “highest levels” of the Justice Department knew about it.

Jake Tapper of ABC News asked Carney about the Fast and Furious program: “I know that there’s this investigation going on internally -- weapons from the Fast and Furious program are now showing up in the United States attached to criminal transactions. The ABC station in Phoenix last week reported on several of these weapons from Fast and Furious turning up. How come we know so little -- the public knows so little about this program? And what is the administration doing to get to the bottom of these weapons, which are now showing up in crimes in the United States?”

Carney answered, “Well, I think there’s an investigation going on precisely to get to the bottom of this. And I can’t comment further on it, because there is an investigation going on.” (Attorney General Eric Holder has referred the matter to the Justice Department’s inspector general.)

Tapper asked whether ATF Acting Director Melson would be “permitted to go to Capitol Hill to testify.”

“I’ll have to refer you to Justice on that. I don’t have any information on that,” Carney responded.

Tapper persisted: “Is this not something that you guys are worried about and incensed about? This is something--”

Carney broke in: “Well, Jake, I think it’s being investigated for a reason. And obviously it’s a matter of concern and that’s why there’s an investigation. But it would be a mistake for me to comment further on -- or to characterize further what happened or how to rate our unhappiness about it from here. So I think that I have to refer you to the Justice Department for that.”

Tapper wanted to know if Obama was upset about the matter.

“Lastly, I mean, we have heard at times when the president was upset about something – ‘plug the damn hole,’ is one such anecdote that was shared exclusively with every single person in this room by the White House,” Tapper said, referring to Obama’s outrage over the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico in 2010. “Do you -- is the president upset about this? I mean, this is a government operation where now weapons -- I mean, the Mexicans are upset that guns are now turning up in--”

“I think you could assume that the president takes this very seriously,” Carney said, interrupting.

Tapper asked, “No one has lost their job. We don’t --”

Carney again referred to the inspector general’s probe. “And there’s an investigation going on, so to comment on people’s jobs and that sort of thing is inappropriate,” Carney said. “But the president takes it very seriously. I think he made clear when the -- during the Mexican state visit and the press conference he had then that he found out about this through news reports. And he takes it very seriously.”

On June 27, CNSNews.com asked Carney, “Could you tell me what is the exact date that the president learned about the Justice Department ATF operation to allow guns to flow into Mexico?

Carney eventually answered, “I’ll have to get back to you. I don’t have an exact date for you.”

CNSNews.com also asked, “There have been some recent reports that acting ATF Director Melson is resisting pressure about resigning. Does the president believe he should resign?”

Carney responded, “I’m going to refer questions about that to the Department of Justice. I don’t really have any more comment on that.”

CNSNews.com asked, “The president doesn’t have a position on his resignation?”

Carney said, “I don’t have any more comment.”

At his news conference on June 29, Obama was asked about Operation Fast and Furious. He responded that Attorney General Eric Holder “has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun running to be able to pass through into Mexico.”

Obama refused to comment on a “current investigation,” but he also said, “I’ve made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF, and we got to find out how that happened.  As soon as the investigation is completed, I think appropriate actions will be taken."