The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has issued a subpoena for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to turn over documents concerning “Project Gunrunner” and records the agency has on the shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
“The unwillingness of this administration - most specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms - to answer questions about this deadly serious matter is deeply troubling,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican. “Allegations surrounding this program are serious, and the ability of the Justice Department to conduct an impartial investigation is in question.
“Congressional oversight is necessary to get the truth about what is really happening,” he said in announcing the subpoena Friday.
Terry, 40, was killed Dec. 15 during a gunfight about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border south of Tucson while attempting to arrest bandits who prey on illegal immigrants. He was waiting with three other agents in a remote area when the gun battle erupted. None of the other agents was injured.
Questions have been raised, first by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on whether ATF allowed suspected gun smugglers to purchase and keep assault rifles that later were used to kill Terry. He wanted to know if ATF allowed the sale to “known and suspected straw purchasers for an illegal trafficking ring near the Southwest border,” saying two of those weapons reportedly were recovered at the site of the Terry shooting.
Mr. Grassley questioned whether ATF officials allowed guns to “walk” across the border, despite warnings from agents on the ground that the policy would result in somebody getting killed.
The Justice Department denied that guns sold in purchases sanctioned by federal agents were used in the shootout that left Terry dead.
Mr. Issa has since questioned ATF’s handling of gun trafficking into Mexico, including the allegation that the agency has had a policy of permitting - and even encouraging - the movement of guns into Mexico by straw purchasers. He said that practice may have contributed to the death of hundreds on both sides of the border, including federal law enforcement agents.
Last month, Mr. Issa asked ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson in a letter for documents related to Project Gunrunner, its “Fast and Furious” component and records on Terry’s death. He said ATF failed to meet a March 30 deadline for producing the documents and refused to voluntarily commit to any date for producing them.
Through Project Gunrunner, ATF works in conjunction with domestic and international law enforcement partners to identify, disrupt and dismantle the firearms and explosives trafficking infrastructure of criminal organizations operating in Mexico, along the border, and other areas of the U.S.
Its cornerstone is intelligence-led firearms trafficking investigations, which ATF has said involves the collection of information from a variety of sources and information received from firearms tracing - allowing the weapons to be “walked” into Mexico. “Operation Fast and Furious” was a gunrunning sting set up by ATF that funneled more than 1,700 smuggled weapons from Arizona to Mexico.
The committee subpoena seeks, among other things, documents and communications concerning those people responsible for authorizing the decision to “walk guns to Mexico in order to follow them and capture a bigger fish”; and any investigative reports by ATF or any other Justice Department component after Terry’s killing, including information pertaining to two guns found at the crime scene that may have been connected to Project Gunrunner.
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