Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gunwalking Scandal Leads to "Fast and Furious" Constitutional Crisis - Origins

What follows is some background on the ATF Gunwalking scandal, now known as "Fast and Furious", with a few selected articles or documents leading to the decision to invoke Executive privilege.  It is NOT an attempt to justify a particular position or definitively answer any questions.  It is simply a sample of what has been reported leading up to the current crisis.  It is a starting point for trying to make sense of it.  As the real underlying issues come into better focus I will report them here. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ran a series of "gunwalking" sting operations[2][3] between 2006[4] and 2011.[2][5] This was done under the umbrella of Project Gunrunner, a project intended to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico by interdicting straw purchasers and gun traffickers within the United States.[6] "Gunwalking" or "letting guns walk" was a tactic whereby the ATF knowingly allowed thousands of guns to be bought by suspected arms traffickers ("gunrunners") working through straw purchasers on behalf of Mexican drug cartels.[7]

The stated goal of allowing these purchases was to continue to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key figures in Mexican cartels, in theory leading to their arrests and the dismantling of the cartels.[8][9] The tactic was questioned during the operations by a number of people, including ATF field agents and cooperating licensed gun dealers.[10][11][12][13][14] Operation Fast and Furious, by far the largest "gunwalking" probe, led to the sale of over 2,000 firearms, of which nearly 700 were recovered as of October 20, 2011.[15] A number of straw purchasers have been arrested and indicted; however, as of October 2011, none of the targeted high-level cartel figures have been arrested.[7]

Firearms "walked" by the ATF have been found at violent crime scenes on both sides of the Mexico–United States border, including scenes involving the deaths of many Mexicans and at least one U.S. federal agent, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The "gunwalking" operations became public in the aftermath of Terry's murder.[2] Dissenting ATF agents came forward to Congress in response.[16][17] As investigations have continued, the operations have become increasingly controversial in both countries, and diplomatic relations have been damaged as a result.[2]

Further information: Project Gunrunner and Mexican Drug War
ATF "gunwalking" operations were, in part, a response to longstanding criticism of the bureau for focusing on relatively minor gun violations while failing to target high-level gun smuggling figures.[18] U.S. firearms laws currently govern the possession and transfer of firearms and provide penalties for the violation of such laws. “Gun trafficking”, although not defined by statute, essentially includes the movement or diversion of firearms from legal to illegal markets.[19]:Summary Four federal statutes govern U.S. commerce of firearms domestically and internationally. Many states supplement these federal statutes and have firearms laws of their own that are stricter. For example, some states require permits to obtain firearms and impose a waiting period for firearm transfers. Domestic commerce and importations into the United States are generally regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). The exportation of firearms from the United States is regulated by the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 and, to a lesser extent, the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).[19]:3 Defendants are often prosecuted and convicted under provisions of statutes such as the GCA that make it unlawful for certain persons to be in possession of firearms, govern the transaction process of obtaining firearms (e.g., straw purchases), and contain penalties for the use of a firearm in a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, or penalties for knowingly or fraudulently smuggling goods that would be contrary to U.S. law and regulation.[19]:18

In a 2012 case in San Juan, Texas, under existing 1968 Gun Control Act provisions on straw purchasing (Title 18 United States Code, Section 924(a)(1)(A)), straw purchaser Taisa Garcia received 33 months and buyer Marco Villalobos received 46 months, plus two years supervision after release.[20] In another Texas gun trafficking case, Oscar Bravo Hernandez received a sentence of 84 months for buying and sending to Mexico at least 55 firearms from a ring of nine straw purchasers who received sentences from 51 months for the most involved down to three years probation for the least involved.[21]

According to twenty-year ATF veteran Jay Wachtel, letting guns "walk" was done in the past in a controlled manner that involved surveillance and eventual seizure of the weapons.[1]According to ATF field agents involved in Operation Fast and Furious, under Project Gunrunner "ATF agents were trained to interdict guns and prevent criminals from obtaining them" and not to allow guns to walk and then disappear.[11]


There have been allegations of "gunwalking" in at least 10 cities in five states.[22] The most widely known and controversial operations took place in Arizona under the ATF'sPhoenix, Arizona field division.
2006–2007: Operation Wide Receiver and other probes

The suspicious sale of AR-15s led to Operation Wide Receiver.[23]

The first known ATF "gunwalking" operation to Mexican drug cartels, named Operation Wide Receiver, began in early 2006 and ran into late 2007. Licensed dealer Mike Detty informed the ATF of a suspicious gun purchase that took place in February 2006 in Tucson, Arizona. In March he was hired as a confidential informant working with the ATF's Tucson office, part of their Phoenix, Arizona field division.[23] With the use of surveillance equipment, ATF agents monitored additional sales by Detty to straw purchasers. With assurance from ATF "that Mexican officials would be conducting surveillance or interdictions when guns got to the other side of the border",[24] Detty would sell a total of about 450 guns during the operation.[22] These included AR-15s, semi-automatic AK-pattern rifles, and Colt .38s. The vast majority of the guns were eventually lost as they moved into Mexico.[7][23][25]

At the time, under the Bush administration Department of Justice (DOJ), no arrests or indictments were made. After President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the DOJ reviewed Wide Receiver in September 2009[26] and found that guns had been allowed into the hands of suspected gun traffickers. Indictments began in 2010, over three years after Wide Receiver concluded. As of October 4, 2011, nine people had been charged with making false statements in acquisition of firearms and illicit transfer, shipment or delivery of firearms.[18] As of November, charges against one defendant had been dropped; five of them had pled guilty, and one had been sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Two of them remained fugitives.[23]

Another, smaller probe occurred in 2007 under the same ATF Phoenix field division. It began when the ATF identified Mexican suspects who bought weapons from a Phoenix gun shop over a span of several months. The probe ultimately involved over 200 guns, a dozen of which were lost in Mexico. On September 27, 2007, ATF agents saw the original suspects buying weapons at the same store and followed them toward the Mexican border. The ATF informed the Mexican government when the suspects successfully crossed the border, but Mexican law enforcement were unable to track them.[4][10]

Less than two weeks later, on October 6, William Newell, then ATF's special agent in charge of the Phoenix field division, shut down the operation at the behest of William Hoover, ATF's assistant director for the office of field operations.[27] No charges were filed. Newell, who was special agent in charge from June 2006 to May 2011, would later play a major role in Operation Fast and Furious.[4][24]
[edit]2009–2011: Operation Fast and Furious

On October 26, 2009, a teleconference was held at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. to discuss U.S. strategy for combating Mexican drug cartels. Participating in the meeting were Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, ATF Director Kenneth E. Melson, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert Mueller and the top federal prosecutors in the Southwestern border states. They decided on a strategy to identify and eliminate entire arms trafficking networks rather than low-level buyers.[3][28][29] Those at the meeting did not suggest using the "gunwalking" tactic, but ATF supervisors would soon use it in an attempt to achieve the desired goals.[30] The effort, beginning in November, would come to be called Operation Fast and Furious for the successful film franchise, because some of the suspects under investigation operated out of an auto repair store and street raced.[3]

The strategy of targeting high-level individuals, which was already ATF policy, would be implemented by Bill Newell, special agent in charge of ATF's Phoenix field division. In order to accomplish it, the office decided to use "gunwalking" as laid out in a January 2010 briefing paper. This was said to be allowed under ATF regulations and given legal backing byU.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke. It was additionally approved and funded by a Justice Department task force.[3] However, long-standing DOJ and ATF policy has required arms shipments to be intercepted.[4][5]

In November 2009, the Phoenix office's Group VII, which would be the lead investigative group in Fast and Furious, began to follow a prolific gun trafficker. He had bought 34 firearms in 24 days, and he and his associates bought 212 more in the next month. The case soon grew to over two dozen straw purchasers, the most prolific of which would ultimately buy more than 600 weapons.[3][5][31]

The tactic of letting guns walk, rather than interdicting them and arresting the buyers, led to controversy within the ATF.[5][32] As the case continued, several members of Group VII, including John Dodson and Olindo Casa, became increasingly upset at the tactic of allowing guns to walk. Their standard Project Gunrunner training was to follow the straw purchasers to the hand-off to the cartel buyers, then arrest both parties and seize the guns. They watched guns being bought illegally and stashed on a daily basis, while their supervisors, including David Voth and Hope MacAllister, prevented the agents from intervening.[3]

Responding to the disagreements, Voth wrote an email in March 2010: "I will be damned if this case is going to suffer due to petty arguing, rumors, or other adolescent behavior. I don’t know what all the issues are but we are all adults, we are all professionals, and we have an exciting opportunity to use the biggest tool in our law enforcement tool box. If you don’t think this is fun you are in the wrong line of work – period!”[3][33]

By June 2010, suspects had purchased 1,608 firearms at a cost of over US$1 million at Phoenix-area gun shops. At that time, the ATF was also aware of 179 of those weapons being found at crime scenes in Mexico, and 130 in the United States.[8] As guns traced to Fast and Furious began turning up at violent crime scenes in Mexico, ATF agents stationed there also voiced opposition.[3]

On the evening of December 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and others were patrolling Peck Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona, 11 miles from the Mexican border. The group came across five suspected illegal immigrants. When they fired non-lethal beanbag guns, the suspects responded with their own weapons, leading to a firefight. Agent Terry was shot and killed; four of the suspects were arrested and two AK-pattern rifles were found nearby. The rifles were traced to Fast and Furious within hours of the shooting, but the bullet that killed Terry was too badly damaged to be linked to either gun.[3]

After hearing of the incident, Agent Dodson reached out to ATF headquarters, ATF's chief counsel, the ATF ethics section and the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, none of whom immediately responded. He and other agents then contacted Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa (R–IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who would become a major figure in the investigation of "gunwalking." At the same time, information began leaking to various bloggers and Web sites.[3]
FN Five-sevens were among the weapons allowed to walk.[34]
On January 25, 2011, U.S. Attorney Burke announced the first details of the case to become officially public, marking the end of Operation Fast and Furious. At a news conference in Phoenix, he reported a 53-count indictment of 20 suspects for buying hundreds of guns intended for illegal export between September 2009 and December 2010. Newell, who was at the conference, called Fast and Furious a "phenomenal case," while denying that guns had been deliberately allowed to walk into Mexico.[3][24]
Altogether, 2,020 firearms were bought by straw purchasers during Fast and Furious.[3] These included AK-47 variants, Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, .38 caliber revolvers, and FN Five-sevens.[34] As of October 20, 2011, 389 had been recovered in the US and 276 had been recovered in Mexico. The rest remained on the streets, unaccounted for.[15] Most of the guns went to the Sinaloa Cartel, while others made their way to El Teo and La Familia.[2][25]

 October 26, 2011 excerpt from CBS News:
Also today, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) requested a public hearing with the former Director of ATF: Kenneth 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 Cummings in a letter today to Rep. Issa.

Rep. Cummings says Melson's attorney has indicated Melson would be "pleased to cooperate."  Below is a copy of the Cummings letter.

October 28, 2011
The Honorable Darrell E. Issa
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
As I have stated repeatedly, I believe Operation Fast and Furious was a terrible mistake with tragic consequences. As I have also stated, I support 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.
On several occasions over the past month, you have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about when he first became aware of the controversial tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious. The Attorney General has now agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on December 8, 2011, when you will have another opportunity to question him directly.
With respect to our own Committee's investigation, I do not believe it will be viewed as legitimate or credible-and I do not believe the public record will be complete-without public testimony from Kenneth Melson, who served as the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
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.
Our staffs have already conducted transcribed interviews with Mr. Melson and the former Deputy Director of ATF, William Hoover. During those interviews, these officials expressed serious concerns about the controversial tactics employed by the Phoenix Field Division of ATF as part of this operation. They also raised concerns about the manner in which the Department of Justice 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. They stated that Operation Fast and Furious originated within the Phoenix Field Division, and that ATF headquarters failed to properly supervise it.
Since the Attorney General has now agreed to appear before Congress in December, I believe Members also deserve an opportunity to question Mr. Melson directly, especially since he headed the agency responsible for
Operation Fast and Furious. My staff has been in touch with Mr. Melson's attorney, who reports that Mr. Melson would be pleased to cooperate with the Committee.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Elijah E. Cummings
Ranking Member

Holder to Testify Before Congress on Operation Fast and Furious

October 29, 2011
By Lonely Conservative Comments are off for this post

Attorney General Eric Holder has a little more than a month to prepare for testimony before Congress on the ATF’s deadly Operation Fast and Furious debacle. He ought to resign, either he knew about it (which apparently he did) and is complicit, or he’s incompetent.

CBS News has learned Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee regarding “Fast and Furious.” The hearing will take place Dec. 8th.

Judiciary Committee member and head of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) had requested that Holder appear, in part to dig deeper into when-he-knew-what about ATF’s so-called “gunwalking” operation Fast and Furious.

In May, Holder testified that he only first heard about Fast and Furious a few weeks before. However, as CBS News reported, documents and memos indicate he had been sent multiple briefings mentioning Fast and Furious in 2010.
Holder later explained in a letter to Congress that he didn’t read those memos, and that in any event, nobody at the Justice Department who knew of Fast and Furious was aware of the specific “gunwalking” tactics used. (Read More)
Sharyl Atykisson seems to be the only member of the MSM who’s the least bit interested in this scandal.

U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Evaluation and Inspections Division 
Review of ATF’s Project Gunrunner
November 2010

This review by the Department of Justice (Department) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) examined the impact of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) implementation of Project Gunrunner on the illicit trafficking of guns from the United States to Mexico.
Violence associated with organized crime and drug trafficking in Mexico is widespread, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. In part because Mexican law severely restricts gun ownership, drug traffickers have turned to the United States as a primary source of weapons, and these drug traffickers routinely smuggle guns from the United States into Mexico. The criminal organizations responsible for smuggling guns to Mexico are typically also involved in other criminal enterprises, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and cash smuggling. This requires ATF to work with other federal entities, as well as with state and local law enforcement partners, in sharing intelligence, coordinating law enforcement activities, and building cases that can be prosecuted.
To help combat firearms trafficking into Mexico, ATF began Project Gunrunner as a pilot project in Laredo, Texas, in 2005 and expanded it as a national initiative in 2006. Project Gunrunner is also part of the Department’s broader Southwest Border Initiative, which seeks to reduce cross-border drug and firearms trafficking and the high level of violence associated with these activities on both sides of the border.
In June 2007, ATF published a strategy document, Southwest Border Initiative: Project Gunrunner (Gunrunner strategy), outlining four key components to Project Gunrunner: the expansion of gun tracing in Mexico, international coordination, domestic activities, and intelligence. In implementing Project Gunrunner, ATF has focused resources in its four Southwest border field divisions. In addition, ATF has made firearms trafficking to Mexico a top ATF priority nationwide.
The OIG conducted this review to evaluate the effectiveness of ATF’s implementation of Project Gunrunner. Our review examined ATF’s enforcement and regulatory programs related to the Southwest border and Mexico, ATF’s effectiveness in developing and sharing firearms trafficking intelligence and information, the number and prosecutorial outcomes of ATF’s Project Gunrunner investigations, ATF’s coordination with U.S. and Mexican law enforcement partners, ATF’s traces of Mexican “crime guns,” and challenges that ATF faces in coordinating efforts to combat firearms trafficking with Mexico.1

ABC News
By Jason Ryan
December 8, 2011 5:11pm

Issa, who serves on the Judiciary committee, has been leading the congressional inquiry into the ATF operation as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa said that not all documents had been provided to his committee as investigators and he wanted to know why no emails to or from Holder appeared in the thousands of pages of documents that the Justice Department had provided to Congress.

Testifying today, Holder said that the operation had been organized by ATF in Phoenix and did not originate out of Washington or from orders out of  the Justice Department headquarters.

Holder and top officials had been grilled by Congress over an inaccurate part of a letter sent to Congress about Fast and Furious.  In a Feb. 4, 2011, letter sent to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote, “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”
The Justice Department formally withdrew the letter last week due to the statement and released a series of internal documents showing how the letter was crafted with input from officials at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona and ATF officials.

“Documents demonstrate that department personnel relied on information provided by supervisors from the components in the best position to know the relevant facts.  We now know that some information provided by those supervisors was inaccurate,” Holder testified today.

The congressional investigation and ATF agents who blew the whistle on the controversial tactics used in Fast and Furious have shown that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and ATF officials knew that guns were allowed to walk into Mexico as part of the operation.
“Although the department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come,” Holder said in his prepared testimony.

Holder also faced continuing questions about the accuracy of his statements as to when  he first learned about Fast and Furious. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in May, Holder said at the time that he had  first  learned about Fast and Furious in the past few weeks.
Today Holder said that he became aware of the operation sometime in the beginning of 2011 around the time of the inquiry from  Grassley.

After learning about the tactics used in Fast and Furious and getting some conflicting information from media reports and congressional inquires, Holder said that he had directed the Justice Department Inspector General to conduct a formal inquiry.

February, 2012
Prepared Testimony of Eric Holder before Congress
[please go to the link above for his prepared testimony]

U.S. Flailing as American Guns Fuel Mexico’s Drug War
By Adam Rawnsley / WIRED
June 20, 2012
Last month, a pair of Mexican drug cartels got into a shootout – and killed 15 recovering addicts who happened to be working at a car wash nearby. It’s part of a wave of violence that’s killed tens of thousands of people in recent years. And it’s partially America’s fault. 70,000 American guns have flowed into Mexico. And U.S. efforts to keep that from happening have been lame, at best, according to a new report from the Justice Department’s inspector general. “Project Gunrunner” didn’t even bother “pursu[ing] those who request and pay for the guns.”
DOJ’s inspector general report knocks the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms effort to trace the guns and nab the weapons traffickers who are fueling Mexico’s increasingly bloody and well-armed drug war that playing out along America’s southern border. According to the report, the ATF’s anti-weapons trafficking efforts are unambitious, poorly coordinated and a lack of resources.
Instead of taking down the networks who orchestrate gun trafficking, the report found that ATF is wasting it time on nickel and dime busts against the patsies that weapons traffickers put up to fill out the legal paperwork to buy their guns — around two defendants per case. Meanwhile, cases that target the networks as a whole are yet to be filed.
Justice Department investigators found that ATF had trouble cooperating with Mexican government officials regarding Project Gunrunner traces because of a lack of coordination within the various Mexican law enforcement agencies. ATF had also not informed Mexican government officials well enough about the Gunrunner program, its goals and successes, investigators said.
Within the U.S. government, the inspector general found that ATF had not coordinated well enough with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite the fact that the two agencies made nice in the form of June 2009 memorandum of understanding laying out roles and responsibilities between the two agencies on anti-gun trafficking.
But it’s not all ATF’s fault. A lack of resources is also preventing the Bureau from investigating gun trafficking in time to keep Mexico’s narco warrior in jail. As of June 2010, ATF’s inability to keep up with weapons tracing requests from the Mexican government had created a backlog of 200 requests or several months worth of work. The backlog’s a problem because, the report says, while Mexican cops wait for info suspects guns, the crooks go free.
Mexico faces what many analysts have called a “criminal insurgency” of drug cartels looking to carve out safe havens within the country. The Mexican government has tried to crack down hard on the cartels,deploying the country’s military in the fight against drug traffickers.” With over 30,000 killed in drug-related violence thus far, though, the violence shows little sign of slowing in the near term.Nearly 30,000 people have been killed because of the drug cartel violence in Mexico and some 70,000 guns that originated in the US were recovered in Mexico between 2007 and 2009.

White House Sends ‘Gun-Walking’ Docs Down the Memory Hole (UPDATED)

June 20, 2012 |
Thousands of documents sought by congressional investigators about a disastrous plan by federal agents to allow guns to “walk” into the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels will now be out of reach. The Obama administration has asserted its executive privilege to withhold the documents — just as lawmakers prepare to vote to hold the nation’s top lawman in contempt of Congress.
In other words, the political battle between the White House and Capitol Hill over the scandal could be on the verge of going nuclear.
For a year and a half, investigators in Congress have pressed Attorney General Eric Holder to provide tens of thousands of documents about Fast and Furious. At first one of several sting operations by the ATF’s Phoenix Field Division against the cartels, the operation ended in disaster as hundreds of guns were allowed to move freely into Mexico, many becoming lost until turning up at murder scenes and cartel stockpiles. Included in this list of smuggled guns were AK-47 variant rifles discovered in Arizona at the scene of a shootout between bandits and Border Patrol tactical officers. The Dec. 14, 2010, firefight caused the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Tens of thousands of documents related to the operation could reveal which officials knew what, and when. That is, if those documents ever saw the light of day. Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have accused Holder of stonewalling investigators, and issued a (unsuccessful) subpoena in October demanding the documents. A meeting last night between Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee, ended without a compromise being reached. If today, a majority of committee members vote to hold Holder in contempt for not abiding by the subpoena, a resolution will then have to move to the House Floor. But because of executive privilege, Holder is no longer required to abide by the subpoena at all.

Though without executive privilege, Holder could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Though, that’s only theoretical. If Holder is held in contempt by the committee, it will be among only a few attempts in decades against an executive branch official. But no contempt action of the sort has been prosecuted in decades except once.
Contempt actions were used against Henry Kissinger in 1975, Interior Secretary James Watt in 1982 and Attorney General Janet Reno in 1998. Each official was held in contempt by committees but compromises were reached before a contempt action ever reached a full House vote. Anne Gorsuch Burford, then-administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was held in contempt in 1982 by the full House,but was never prosecuted. Karl Rove and Harriet Myers were held in contempt in 2008, but neither actions were ever resolved. EPA official Rita Lavelle was held in contempt, prosecuted and convicted of lying to Congress in 1983.

During testimony in February, Holder said the Justice Department has provided “virtually unprecedented access” (.pdf) through (limited and redacted) internal documents. “This has been a significant undertaking for Department employees — and our efforts in this regard remain ongoing,” he said. Though, Holder also said the documents included evidence “some of the information [the Justice Department] provided was inaccurate” — including a letter sent to Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa one year ago denying that Fast and Furious ever took place.
The Justice Department has also maintained that 7,600 documents have already been turned over, and that releasing more documents could harm ongoing investigations.

Fast and Furious was also not the first ATF operation to run guns. A report released in January by House Democrats described the plot as “the latest in a series of fatally flawed operations run by ATF agents in Phoenix and the Arizona US Attorney’s Office,” beginning in 2006 with another shuttered plan called Operation Wide Receiver. In the beginning, Phoenix-based ATF agents “went forward with plans to observe or facilitate hundreds of suspected straw firearm purchases,” according to the report.

The ATF’s history of running guns down to Mexico prior to Fast and Furious could be one of Holder’s main defenses. If the ATF — specifically, ATF agents in Phoenix — were letting guns walk two years before Holder was appointed Attorney General, then the reasoning is that ATF agents likely proceeded at their own discretion. Though, if documents are released that reveal that the upper tiers of the Justice Department — including Holder — knew about the plan (or plans) all along, then Holder may be forced to resign.

With Obama’s asserting executive privilege, however, that’s become a lot less likely.
UPDATED: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has voted to hold Holder in contempt. Next, the committee will send a contempt citation to the House for a full vote. The vote was (predictably) along partisan lines, with 23 in favor to 17 opposed. Though, it’s worth noting that the House doesn’t have to vote on it. According to the Associated Press (via NPR), the more likely scenario is that the contempt citation will be used as a bargaining chip during negotiations.

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