The heated Congressional investigation into the botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program Operation Fast and Furious reached a whole new level on Friday.
New emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times appear to show senior Obama administration and White House officials were briefed on the gun-walking operation. The three White House officials implicated by the LA Times’ reporting are Kevin M. O’Reilly, the director of North American Affairs for the White House national security staff; Dan Restrepo, the president’s senior Latin American advisor; and Greg Gatjanis, a White House national security official.
The emails were sent between July 2010 and February 2011, before the scandalous ATF program was exposed, according the LA Times.
The LA Times says a senior administration official denies that the emails which lead Fast and Furious ATF agent William Newell sent to O’Reilly — who later briefed Restrepo and Gatjanis –included details on “investigative tactics” used in the program. By “investigative tactics,” the White House means how ATF agents facilitated the sale of firearms to drug cartels via “straw purchasers,” or people who could legally buy guns in the U.S. but did so with the intention of selling them to individuals who would traffic them to Mexico.
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The man who led the controversial Fast and Furious anti-gun-trafficking operation will step down as the interim head of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Justice Department announced Tuesday as it named a new acting director for the agency.
Kenneth Melson, the bureau’s acting director, on Wednesday will move to the Office of Legal Policy, where he will be a senior adviser on forensic science, the department said without making reference to the failed gun-tracking operation that is alleged to have ultimately put guns into the hands of criminals. Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney in Arizona who oversaw prosecutions in that state related to the Fast and Furious operation, is also stepping down, the department said.
“Ken brings decades of experience at the department and extensive knowledge in forensic science to his new role, and I know he will be a valuable contributor on these issues,” Attorney General Eric Holder said of Melson in a statement. “As he moves into this new role, I want to thank Ken for his dedication to the department over the last three decades.”
Melson’s replacement is B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. Jones “is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position,” Holder said. “I have great confidence that he will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF in fulfilling its mission of combating violent crime by enforcing federal criminal laws and regulations in the firearms and explosives industries.”
Melson took the top spot at the ATF on an interim basis in 2009 and oversaw the execution of Fast and Furious, an effort that was aimed at rooting out gun smugglers selling weapons to Mexican cartels. Ultimately, the ATF lost track of as many as 2,000 guns that were sold during the operation, including two that were found near the scene of the killing of a Border Patrol agent.
In a separate statement, Holder commended Burke’s “decision to place the interests of the U.S. Attorney’s office above all else” in stepping down. CBS reported that Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, who worked under Burke on Fast and Furious, will be reassigned to the Civil Division of the Justice Department.
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More than two dozen assault rifles have been stolen from a Southern California military base, and investigators sought the public’s help as they looked to arrest suspects and recover the weapons, federal officials said Friday.
Twenty-six AK-74 assault rifles and one Dragunov sniper rifle were stolen from a supply warehouse at Fort Irwin in San Bernardino County on July 15, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says in a statement.
Some arrests have been made and one rifle has been recovered, but the agency is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to further arrests, the statement said.
“Community participation is necessary to improve the likelihood that ATF and our law enforcement partners will track down the firearms as well as the criminals who have sought to destabilize our community through illegal activity,” ATF Special Agent in Charge John A. Torres said in the statement.
ATF spokesman Special Agent Christian Hoffman could not say when reached by phone how many were arrested, whether they were military or civilian or what motive they may have had.
He referred those questions to military officials, who made the arrests. Phone and email messages left late Friday for a spokesman from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command, which is investigating the theft along with the ATF and the FBI, were not immediately returned.
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The Justice Department is obstructing the congressional investigation of a U.S. law enforcement operation intended to crack down on major weapons traffickers on the Southwest border, according to the embattled leader of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ken Melson, the acting director of the ATF, lobbed the accusation when he sneaked in for an interview with congressional investigators on July 4, two days ahead of his scheduled interview with the inspector general about the operation known as “Fast and Furious,” Fox News has learned.
“If his account is accurate, then ATF leadership appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand,” Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder. “That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation.”
The Justice Department is reportedly looking to oust Melson, who has been acting ATF director since April 2009, as the agency deals with its biggest scandal in nearly two decades. Andrew Traver, who was tapped in November by President Obama to become the permanent ATF director, could be named as acting director until the Senate acts on his nomination, sources have said.
In a separate development, congressional sources have learned that not only was U.S. taxpayer money being used to buy guns that were later sent to Mexico, but the main target of the investigation was actually a FBI informant and former drug dealer who had been deported years ago.
“Fast and Furious” has been at the center of an investigation by Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. The operation began in the fall of 2009 as an effort to trace and stop the trafficking of illegal guns on the Southwest border, but instead allowed thousands of guns to get into the hands of Mexican cartel members.
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