(CNSNews.com) – Skeptical that Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama administration officials did not know about the botched gun-walking operation carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives along the Southwest border, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants to see a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the matter.
“We’d like to have a true special prosecutor, particularly when it’s obvious if Eric Holder didn’t know, it’s because he didn’t want to know or because he wasn’t doing his job,” Issa said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “That creates a clear pattern of we’d like to know who did know and why they didn’t brief the attorney general.”
During May testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Holder was asked when he first became aware of Operation Fast and Furious. He responded, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”
CNSNews.com asked Issa during Tuesday's conference call if testimony last week by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller was consistent with what is currently known about the operation.
Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee she was unaware of the operation before it was halted after two of the guns that the ATF knowingly allowed to be sold to straw purchasers were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Mueller told the committee the FBI was not involved in the operation until it began investigating Terry’s murder. (See Earlier Story)
While the ATF Phoenix division led Operation Fast and Furious, it was part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI. Under the operation, about 2,000 guns were allowed to be illegally sold for the intent of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels.
“People are picking their words very carefully. Certainly there are FBI individuals that knew what the director did not know,” Issa told CNSNews.com. “Certainly there are Homeland Security briefings in which there should have been more.
“One of the problems was this is what was called an OCDETF operation, which means the FBI was an active part of it. Joint funding was used. So, if one were to say, did DEA know, did the FBI know, the answer is yes. Did the director know? I take him at his word – the answer is no,” Issa added.
Still, Issa told CNSNews.com that the committee might want to ask Napolitano, Holder and others why they were not aware sooner.
“So, one of our questions is, why wouldn’t you have known,” Issa said. “When was it appropriate for you to be briefed on this and who was keeping it from you? And that becomes the next opportunity with Secretary Napolitano or Eric Holder. One of our questions is: Where do you spend your days and why aren’t you briefed on something like this?”
Issa said the Justice Department is unlikely to be aggressive in prosecuting the Justice Department.
Former ATF Director Kenneth Melson was reassigned last month, and former U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis Burke was fired.
Several ATF officials were promoted, such as William G. McMahon, William D. Newell and David Voth, who oversaw Operation Fast and Furious out of the Phoenix office.
Operation Fast and Furious, which began in 2009, purposefully allowed known and suspected smugglers to purchase weapons at licensed gun dealers in the United States—sometimes while under active surveillance by U.S. law enforcement – and then allowed the smugglers to get away with the weapons, in some cases delivering them, as the government expected, to Mexican drug cartels.
Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were specifically ordered not to stop the purchases, not to intercept the smugglers after they made the purchases, and not to retrieve the weapons.
The purpose of the operation was to let the Justice Department trace the movement of the guns and uncover the full structure of the gun-smuggling operations. However, on Dec. 14, 2010, two rifles sold to one of the smugglers that the Justice Department had allowed to buy guns turned up at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Within 24 hours of Terry’s murder, according to an internal ATF email released by Issa, the FBI had definitively traced the rifles found at the murder scene back to Operation Fast and Furious and had so notified ATF.