In their latest salvo against top Justice Department officials they believe were aware of Operation Fast and Furious, two congressional Republicans have made a sweeping request for correspondence records from a dozen department senior officials.
In a letter dated Monday, two congressmen leading a congressional investigation into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ program asked for “emails, memoranda, briefing papers and handwritten notes” regarding the operation from 12 officials, including Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, wrote in the letter that they believe “senior officials at the Department of Justice, including Senate-confirmed political appointees, were unquestionably aware of the implementation of this reckless program.”
Three of the 12 listed officials are political appointees. In addition to Cole and Breuer, that list included:
- David Ogden, former deputy attorney general
- Gary Grindler, Office of the Attorney General and former acting deputy attorney general
- Kenneth Blanco, deputy assistant attorney general
- Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general
- John Keeney, deputy assistant attorney general
- Matt Axelrod, associate deputy attorney general
- Ed Siskel, former associate deputy attorney general
- Brad Smith, Office of the Deputy Attorney General
- Kevin Carwile, section chief of the Capital Case Unit
- Joseph Cooley, of the Criminal Fraud Section
They also asked for communications referring to ATF firearms trafficking cases or any correspondence with Phoenix offices by noon on July 18.
Issa and Grassley’s carte blanche request for documents is the latest in their battle with the Justice Department for documents on ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious, which allegedly allowed thousands of firearms to be sold to straw purchasers in Arizona and illegally trafficked into Mexico.
Issa requested thousands of additional documents earlier this year and has expressed outrage at what he sees as a lack of cooperation from the department.
But a department spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that, “already, hundreds of thousands of pages have been reviewed and over 2,000 produced or made available, and we also have provided witnesses for interviews. There are all sorts of ways we have been responsible to the [House Oversight and Government Reform] committee’s requests and we will continue to be.”
The Times also quoted unnamed sources as saying that because Fast and Furious was managed out of the ATF field office in Phoenix, Washington officials were not necessarily aware of its specifics.
While congressional Republicans appear convinced that senior DOJ officials knew of the operation, several department officials have denied any knowledge. Attorney General Eric Holder testified in March that he learned of it only after two guns sold during the operation were found at the December slaying of Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry in a shootout near Rio Rico, Ariz.
Many firearms sold during the operation have been also recovered from scenes of violent crime in Mexico.
The congressmen’s request also coincided with a department announcement Monday that the ATF will soon require gun dealers in the four border states to report bulk purchasing of high-caliber firearms – a move that many Republicans have criticized.