The chief congressional investigators of Operation Fast and Furious released explosive testimony from the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that they say indicates the Obama administration tried to stonewall Congress, deny witnesses the ability to testify freely, and fire employees who refused to conceal damning information. According to acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson not only did the Justice Department play fast-and-loose with Fast and Furious, but other government agencies may have known – and funded – the straw purchasers the ATF program was designed to catch. The agency’s investigation, which has resulted in at least two deaths, may have been entirely unnecessary.
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Scorn on the Fourth of July
Congressman Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley sent a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday, revealing that Melson gave a transcribed interview on the Fourth of July, with only his personal lawyer present. The news must have come as a shock to Holder. Melson’s testimony had been scheduled to take place July 13, with Melson’s counsel and Obama administration lawyers from the DoJ and ATF taking part.
According to the letter, Melson testified that the administration had not informed him of his legal right “to attend a voluntary interview with [his] own lawyer… rather than participate with counsel representing the Department’s interests.”
“We are disappointed that no one had previously informed him of that provision of the agreement,” they wrote. “Instead, Justice Department officials sought to limit and control his communications with Congress. This is yet another example of why direct communications with Congress are so important and are protected by law.”
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(Obstruction of) Justice Department
The Congressmen’s recounting of Melson’s testimony includes mistakes he admitted making, including not personally reviewing hundreds of documents relating to Fast and Furious until March of this year. “By his account, he was sick to his stomach when he obtained those documents and learned the full story,” they write.
In the most stinging passage of the letter, Issa and Grassley accuse the administration of a concerted cover-up:
According to Mr. Melson [after learning about the consequences of the program], he and ATF’s senior leadership team moved to reassign every manager involved in Fast and Furious, from the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations down to the Group Supervisor, after learning the facts in those documents. Mr. Melson also said he was not allowed to communicate to Congress the reasons for the reassignments. He claimed that ATF’s senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process. However, he said that Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress. The result is that Congress only got the parts of the story that the Department wanted us to hear. 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. That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation. The Department’s inability or unwillingness to be more forthcoming served to conceal critical information that we are now learning about the involvement of other agencies, including the DEA and the FBI. (Emphases added.)
Melson’s story of the administration seizing control of the agency’s communications is reinforced by another whistleblower, Catherine Papoi of the Department of Homeland Security. Papoi testified that Obama officials are “breaking the law by knowingly and intentionally delaying and obstructing the release of agency records” after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Similarly, a recent survey of 148 Senior Executive Service members conducted by the Government Business Council found career bureaucrats accused the Obama administration of routinely engaging in “politicization of normal agency functions.”
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