Under questioning by Senator Charles Grassley, Attorney General Eric Holder testified that a handful of emails written to Department of Justice officials by former ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson are being withheld illegally from congressional committees as a result of Barack Obama’s claim of executive privilege. Kept now under lock and key thanks to the June 20th order, the emails have been described by Melson as “smoking guns” in that–contrary to Holder’s testimony to Congress–they “show senior DOJ officials knew about and approved the gun walking tactics in Fast and Furious.”
Fifteen months ago, Melson began his own investigation of Fast and Furious by reading through the wiretap affidavits sent by the ATF to Main Justice in Washington. He found that the information included in the necessarily detailed documents bore little resemblance to the “facts” that had earlier been relayed to Congress by Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich. In a February 4th, 2011 letter to Senator Charles Grassley, Weich claimed that the ATF had not “sanctioned or otherwise knowingly allowed” weapons to be sold to straw purchasers or walked into Mexico. Of course, that infamous letter was retracted by the DOJ, only after the Department had maintained its assertions for a full 9 months.
The wiretap applications also made it clear that Eric Holder had lied when he repeatedly claimed to congressional committees that the DOJ knew nothing of the tactics ATF employed during the Operation. This is because wiretap applications—forms asking a court’s permission to perform a wiretap—are completed in extraordinary detail and list all previous tactical methods employed by law enforcement to gather evidence in a particular case. And each of the applications had been approved and signed by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, a top DOJ political appointee.
After reading the applications, Melson immediately addressed emails to a NUMBER of DOJ officials telling them to “…back off the [February 4th Weich] letter to Senator Grassley in light of the information in the affidavits (applications).” As Grassley himself later said of Melson “… he was alarmed the information in the affidavits contradicted the [DOJ’s] public denial to congress.” (1)
Sent to the Department in March of 2011, Melson’s emails alerted the DOJ to its false and potentially criminal claims just one month after the Weich letter and 3 months after the death of Brian Terry. The emails exposed lies perpetuated by both Weich and Eric Holder. Yet not only did the DOJ ignore Melson’s warnings; Holder continued his claims of innocence and ignorance on behalf of the Department and its officials—including, of course, himself.
The incriminating wiretaps applications have been sealed by a federal judge, so although copies were leaked to congressional committees, they cannot be released to the public or used in evidence against the DOJ.
And although Ken Melson informed Grassley and Issa of his emails and their content in a July 4th deposition to Committee representatives, the only copies are now sealed under Obama’s privilege order. Prior to that, the DOJ refused to provide them to Congress.
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