The Justice Department sent 500 pages of documents to Congress on Thursday suggesting that controversial gun-tracing tactics on the Mexican border began during the George W. Bush administration. But two leading Republicans critics say the documents show that the Barack Obama administration failed to heed the right lessons.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on Thursday that it is “deeply discouraging” that the DOJ under Obama knew about problems in the Bush-era investigation yet failed to react to warnings that the more recent investigation, known as Operation Fast and Furious, was encountering big problems, according to The Associated Press.
Issa has emerged as one of the harshest critics of Fast and Furious, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed guns purchased in the Phoenix area to be trafficked to Mexico in the hope of tracking down Mexican drug dealers. The operation backfired badly, with the ATF losing track of hundreds of weapons, two of which were found at the scene of a shootout that killed a Border Patrol agent in December 2010.
Issa’s latest salvo of criticism was prompted by the release to his committee on Thursday of internal DOJ documents about the earlier investigation, known as Wide Receiver. Issa said the documents show that coordination with the Mexican government on Wide Receiver was “just the opposite” of the manner in which Fast and Furious was run, with Mexican authorities informed about Wide Receiver but left in the dark on Fast and Furious, the AP said.
“I think it is wrong for us to allow 100s of guns to go into Mexico to drug people knowing that is where they are going,” Assistant United States Attorney Serra Tsethlikai wrote in a Dec. 19, 2008, email to a colleague, according to the AP. Tsethlikai’s comments were among several from prosecutors concerned about Wide Receiver.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who is another persistent critic of Fast and Furious, said the documents showed that the “administration knew that guns were walked in Operation Wide Receiver, yet did nothing about it even as it was happening again in Fast and Furious.”
“I’ve said all along that walking guns is wrong, period,” Grassley said in a statement. “I don’t care who did it.” As he has before, Grassley called on Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the Criminal Division, “to do the right thing, hold himself accountable and resign.”
Meanwhile, Talking Points Memo noted that Issa has complained that the DOJ was complicating the investigation by refusing to offer direct answers and access to key witnesses. One such potential witness is Emory Hurley, an Assistant United States Attorney in Phoenix who was a lead prosecutor on Fast and Furious and was reassigned in its aftermath. (The United States Attorney in Arizona, Dennis Burke, resigned over the episode, as Main Justice reported.)