The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives sting operation named Project Gunrunner passed so many guns to border-crossing smugglers as bait to snag high-level Mexican drug cartel leaders — instead of intercepting them as intended — that one was used to murder U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December.
Project Gunrunner had been whitewashed by a 152-page Justice Department Inspector General Review in November, before the Terry murder. But when bloggers including National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea publicly exposed Project Gunrunner and its successor, Operation Fast and Furious, it delivered swift results.
Immediately, half a dozen veteran agents based in Phoenix came forward and revealed that the bureau had indeed directed the sale of hundreds of high-powered rifles and handguns to suspects — despite the objections of legitimate gun shop owners.
Two members of Congress with watchdog reputations — Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — were appalled at the whistleblower evidence they received and haven’t let go of the issue.
In late January, Sen. Grassley fired off a letter to acting BATFE Director Kenneth Melson, seeking a response to the allegations. To his shock, the reply letter came not from Melson, but from a superior in the Justice Department, claiming all the whistleblower allegations were false.
Bad timing: CBS News soon broadcast a whistleblower saying, “There were over 2,500 guns on that case, including some .50-calibers they let walk away.”
Issa wrote a mid-March letter to BATFE’s Melson requesting specific gunrunner documents and records related to the death of Border Agent Terry. No response.
But the elephant in the room was becoming harder to ignore. President Barack Obama said that neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder authorized this operation. Holder, an anti-gun ideologue, kept stony silence as evidence mounted that his department was covering up, including arrests of gun smugglers and the discovery of specific guns that went to Mexico and came back.
Grassley told reporters, “I’m still asking questions and we’re still getting the runaround from the Justice Department. They’re stonewalling.”
Issa was steamed. He issued a subpoena to the BATFE for the documents, stating that moving guns into Mexico “may have contributed to the deaths of hundreds on both sides of the border, including federal law enforcement agents.”
The bureau missed the subpoena deadline, more evidence piled up, and Issa threatened to issue a contempt order against Melson. Then Holder gave evasive testimony before the House and Senate Judiciary committees early last month,
Seattle Gun Rights Examiner Dave Workman has blogged about a gunrunner hearing to be held by Issa’s committee in mid-June. Staffers acknowledge Workman’s finding, but remain cagey about the exact date and who might be on the witness list. Melson and Holder perhaps?
Washington Examiner contributor Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.