Congressman Darrell Issa is threatening the Obama administration with contempt hearings if it continues to stonewall his investigation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). In a letter Issa sent ATF Director Ken Melson earlier today, the California Republican blasted the agency for failing to meet the April 13 deadline for his subpoena. Issa, the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is investigating Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious — two ATF programs that may have cost the lives of two federal agents.
Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch refused to comply with a subpoena Issa handed down on March 31, citing the Justice Department’s “ongoing criminal investigations.” Issa retorted, “We are not conducting a concurrent investigation with the Department of Justice, but rather an independent investigation of the Department of Justice.”
His letter revealed that Issa had obtained a document proving two AK-47s sold through Project Gunrunner — but never tracked by the ATF — were found near the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last December. “This document demonstrates that ATF knew straw purchasers were acquiring weapons and failed to track those records,” he wrote. “As an apparent result, a U.S. federal agent lost his life.” He added the ATF’s “failure to act” may have similarly cost the life of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Jaime Zapata, who was murdered in February in Mexico.
Issa concluded his letter to Melson by stating, “If you do not comply with the subpoena, the Committee will be forced to commence contempt proceedings.”
Issa’s letter follows an April 8 letter Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, e-mailed to Melson, upbraiding him for telling ATF agents they “are in no way obliged to respond” to Congress.
How high does the ATF’s malfeasance and nonfeasance go? At least one Congressman is showing the backbone to find out.