Acting Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Director Kenneth Melson, in surprise July 4th testimony to chief House investigator Rep. Darrell Issa's panel, corroborated shocking suggestions that the Fast & Furious gun running scam on the U.S.-Mexico border included more federal agencies—and tax dollars—than previously revealed. What's more, he suggested that top Justice officials muzzled ATF as it sought to clean up the episode after two of the guns in the scam were linked to the December killing in Arizona of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
In a five-page letter to Attorney General Eric Holder following Melson's testimony, Issa, chair of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee and Senate Justice Committee ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley, called for greater cooperation in Issa's probe of Fast & Furious. And they warned Holder not to fire Melson and make him "the fall guy in an attempt to prevent further congressional oversight."
"The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities. While this is preliminary information, we must find out if there is any truth to it. According to Acting Director Melson, he became aware of this startling possibility only after the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the indictments of the straw purchasers, which we now know were substantially delayed by the U.S. Attorney's Office and Main Justice," the duo wrote.
Issa has been probing the scandal for months. He calls Fast and Furious a reckless ATF initiative to build a case against gun traffickers linked to Mexican drug cartels. In doing so, ATF allegedly allowed straw buyers, those who can legally buy guns, to do so and then sell them to criminals who passed them to drug cartels.
A pair of AK-47s linked to Fast & Furious were found at the site of Terry's killing.
The National Rifle Association has joined in the cause, charging that the scandal that included about 2,500 guns escalated the violence on the border.
Issa says that he's been stonwalled by Justice in his probe. Issa urged Americans to send questions about the affair to President Obama's Twitter forum today.
In their letter, Issa and Grassley suggest that ATF has been "muzzled" by Justice; that other agencies were involved in the scandal; and that Justice has "buried its head in the sand" to block the investigation.
Read it here.