The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has indicated that he will resist calls for him to step down amid growing controversy over the agency’s now-infamous gun-trafficking surveillance operation, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Kenneth E. Melson is reportedly eager to tell Congress the extent of his and other officials’ roles in operation “Fast and Furious,” which allegedly ordered thousands of guns to be sold to straw buyers, lost from law enforcement surveillance and allowed into Mexico.
At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing last week, several ATF agents testified that Melson was closely involved in overseeing the operation – at one point requesting live video feed of gun dealers selling to straw buyers linked to the Mexican drug cartels, they said.
But at least two anonymous sources told the LA Times that Melson will not be the “fall guy” for the program and that he appears open to an appearance before Congress if given approval by the Justice Department.
Meanwhile, one of the two congressman leading the charge against Melson, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), traveled to Mexico on Friday in an attempt to spur further investigation from its government. There, he will join eight other U.S. lawmakers for a meeting on Saturday at the federal police command center in Mexico City.
He and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have led the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, and both have expressed their intention to hold high-level ATF and DOJ officials responsible for the “reckless” operation.
In a letter to Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s U.S. ambassador, Issa and Grassley requested serial numbers for all firearms his government thought might be connected to the operation as well as all numbers for guns recovered in violent crimes.
“This information would be tremendously helpful to us in determining the full scale of the effects of Operation Fast and Furious, which includes the deaths of both Mexican and American citizens,” the two wrote. “We have a shared interest with you in getting to the bottom of this matter.”
Their request coincides with the revelation that two AK-47s recovered at the scene of shootout with suspected killers of a well-known Mexican attorney were linked to Fast and Furious. Further investigation found that the guns were linked to the torture and killing of Mario Gonzalez Rodriquez, the brother of former Chihuahua attorney general Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez.
Mexican authorities have not commented on the case, citing ongoing investigations.
Two more guns from the operation were recovered last December after a shootout near Rio Rico, Ariz., between Border Patrol agents and a group of Mexican bandits apparently preying on migrants crossing the border. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry was shot and killed during the gunfire.
Terry’s death kicked off Issa’s investigation of the ATF, a spokesman for Issa’s office said yesterday. But Justice Department officials have warned that the probe may jeopardize ongoing cases against dozens of suspects involved in Terry’s shooting.
During last week’s hearing, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich urged investigators to work with the department to ensure the integrity of confidential information and potential trial witnesses.
“The rules of the House do not easily permit a committee to keep documents confidential,” Weich said.
In a earlier committee hearing, ranking member Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) released a letter addressed to Issa saying that he had revealed documents sealed by a federal court while conducting his investigation.
But Weich’s remarks seemed only to frustrate Chairman Issa, who says DOJ officials have failed to adequately cooperate with his committee in responding to subpoenas he issued for hundreds of documents on Fast and Furious. To illustrate his point, he held up dozens paper sheets almost entirely filled with black redaction blocks.
“The pages go on like this forever,” Issa said.
The DOJ’s Office of Inspector General has also opened an investigation of the operation.