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Today's Washington Post and New York Times report that the embattled head of the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Ken Melson, met with congressional staffers last weekend to explain his role in the tragically botched "Fast and Furious" sting operation.

Intended to allow the U.S. to track guns to Mexican drug cartels by knowingly letting guns across the U.S./Mexico border (whose brilliant idea was that?), the now-abandoned "Fast and Furious" operation came under criticism after two guns linked to the operation resurfaced in an Arizona shootout that killed a U.S. Border Patrol Agent.

Reporting on Melson's interview with a bi-partisan group of congressional staffers in a  letter to Attorney General Holder, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley (R-IA) and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) accuse the Justice Department of  implementing an approach which "distorted the truth" and "obstructed our investigation."  The letter accuses the Justice Department of

"effectively muzzl[ing]" ATF leadership while "DOJ sent over [to Congress] false denials and buried its head in the sand."

As if bringing a record number of Espionage Act prosecutions against so-called "leakers"--who more often than not are whistleblowers--wasn't enough to silence internal dissent within the Obama administration . . . now, the Justice Department itself is implicated in silencing employees who sought to cooperate with a congressional investigation.

According to the letter from Grassley and Issa, Melson claimed:

ATF's senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with [the congressional] inquiry much earlier in process

but that the Justice Department
directed [ATF senior leadership] not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress.

The critical information Melson alleges was hidden from Congress: that the FBI and DEA were deeply involved in the operation, which, according to Grassely and Issa,
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 such activities.

The case is not without wrinkles of the classic whistleblower retaliation that occurs all too often in an agency cover-up. According to the Issa/Grassley letter:

. . . two days after [Melson] told Acting Deputy Attorney General Cole about serious issues involving lack of information sharing, the Wall Street Journal reported that unnamed sources said that Melson was about to be ousted.

My organization, the Government Accountability Project, has repeatedly highlighted (here, here, and here) Cole's history of questionable conduct while he was Compliance Office of the American International Group (AIG).

The "Fast and Furious" scandal began with ATF agents who blew the whistle to Congress after the Arizona shootout.  A Congressional report issued last month found that ATF leadership in Arizona and Washington ignored early criticism from ATF agents:  

ATF agents complained about the strategy . . . [but] [l]eadership ignored their concerns.  Instead supervisors told the agents to "get with the program" because senior ATF officials had sanctioned the operation.
 The Congressional report also states that "the original whistleblower who exposed Operation Fast and Furious," Special Agent John Dodson,
was removed from Phoenix Group VII [the group focusing on firearms trafficking] in the summer of 2010 for complaining to ATF supervisors about the dangerous tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious.

These indicators of whistleblowing reprisal - a misguided program, ignoring concerns of employees, reprisal for speaking out, a mandate to "fall in line" - and the tragic consequences - the Arizona shootout - are all too typical in agencies' bureaucracies, and should not be tolerated.  Despite campaign promises to protect whistleblowers, it appears that, once again, the Obama administration has failed them.  Yet, Melton's latest allegations of concealment prove that it is not the crime, but the cover-up of the "Fast and Furious" operation that continues to haunt Holder and the Obama administration.

Originally posted to Jesselyn Radack on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 07:07 AM PDT.

Also republished by Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Baja Arizona Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  All of the failsafes that the constitution (4+ / 0-)

    had built in have failed us in this moment.  We have a huge pile of evidence linking our SCOTUS will votes for hire.  

    We have a huge stinking mess going on with two wars and lost money in the forms of billions and contractors who haven't performed up to standards and legislators using tax monies to procure useless weaponry and the use of drones in other countries which seem to completely kill the notion of sovereignty.  

    We have a financial meltdown in which we rewarded the cretins that created the mess.  And to solve the problem, the rethugs have unearthed the notion of "shared sacrifice" which seems to mean that the crooks who done it and their wealthy customers make no sacrifice at all while the rest of us will pay for ever with no end in sight as our safety nets are ripped apart one by one.

    And we have a DoJ that seems to be incapable of working properly after a decade of politicization.

    And we have a citizenry that is bludgeoned into silence and apathy apparently.

    boycott Koch = don't buy Northern TP

    by glitterscale on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 07:30:39 AM PDT

    •  It seems we are victims of interpretation (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trueblueliberal

      and the scuttling of previously understood terms of language.
      Powerful people are redefining terms, turning neutral or positive words into pejoratives, with a media structure to perpetuate the  spin.  Now we are faced with a culture wherein some people think that social justice and empathy are evil things, and any concept can be called into question by simply redefining it and repeating that falsehood endlessly.  No wonder people are confused.

    •  excellent synopsis, seen too late (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OMwordTHRUdaFOG

      Can't uprate at this late date... but great comment.

      This is "partisan politics" at it's finest.

      If you and I hate each other nightly on National TV, we can assure ourselves a long career and personal financial success.

      The actors remain the same (at least we knew Reagan and Fred Thompson were actors going in), only the costumes change.

      A man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything. ~ Malcolm X.

      by 43north on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 08:46:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Republished to Baja Arizona Kossacks. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, Joieau, buddabelly

    Looks like you can't link in an editor's note. Here is the McClatchy story from the Arizona Daily Star

  •  I'm not entirely certain I WANT them (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Azazello, happy camper, Wino

    to cooperate with issa.  He's going to begin a witch hunt no matter what happens.  I'd prefer the DOJ wait for a Senate investigation that won't be run by a crook with an agenda.  I do not blame Holder.

    There is nothing about this house of representatives that will be in any way bipartisan. Anything they do, anything they say will be done with a partisan bent.  That goes triple for issa.

    A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

    by dougymi on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 07:36:32 AM PDT

  •  Which specific DOJ bureaucrat was primarily (0+ / 0-)

    responsible for doing this and palying patty-cake with DEA and FBI? I'll bet enough to supply doughnuts to the local Police force that holdovers from the BUSH era are involved.

    Bipartisan analogy: Both musicians and fishermen want more bass.

    by OHdog on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 08:57:29 AM PDT

    •  Maybe Deputy DA James Cole (0+ / 0-)

      He's the one who seems to have obstructed Melson's complaints about Gunwalker. He was Acting Deputy DA at the time, but he was confirmed on June 28 apparently in a horse-trade between Chuck Grassley, who'd been blocking his confirmation, and someone else. Not sure who the someone else was -- Pat Leahy or the DoJ, dunno.

  •  Republished to RKBA for related information. (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks.

    Republicans cause more damage than guns ever will. Share Our Wealth

    by KVoimakas on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 10:47:12 PM PDT

  •  Let criminals buy a bunch of guns (0+ / 0-)

    and allow them to be smuggled to a foreign nation, where they will be used in a war against a government that we support.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 06:38:10 AM PDT

  •  It's interesting that all of this (0+ / 0-)

    seems to coincide with a period in which the ATF, DOJ, and White House were all pushing the "90% of the guns used in Mexico's drug war were purchased in US gun stores" meme.

    I think this has been referred to as "catapulting the propaganda."

    Now, I'm not actually convinced by this argument... I follow Heinlein's Law, and never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence. But I'm sure hearing it a lot.

    What's even more interesting is that the leaks didn't happen until the 90% argument had been not only debunked, but abandoned as a talking point by the White House.

    Again, there's a non-CT explanation for this. Which would be that the political pressure from the appointed officials on the career people let up enough to make some people feel safer in speaking out.

    The dynamics of organizational structure can be quite fascinating, at least from an empirical perspective. Not that any of the academic "theories" have any real value... they're as wrong as alchemy. But there is value in observing these structures under stress. At least we can start to learn what not to do.

    My prediction is that a Deputy Assistant Administrator and a few field agents will get the ax. My strong hunch is that the real decisions were made at at least Holder's level, if not by his boss. Career bureaucrats don't take risks like this on their own.

    --Shannon

    "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
    "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

    by Leftie Gunner on Sat Jul 09, 2011 at 12:30:21 PM PDT

    •  Shannon, saw too late to rec. (3+ / 0-)

      Good point on Heinlein's Law.  I'll give the half-baked idea of letting a hundred guns to out unimpeded over to Heinlein.

      Making 100 into over 2000 is malicious.  
      Be that extremely ill-conceived to the point of criminal misconduct, or created to provide "truthiness" to the data cited by the Mexicans (and until wikileaks revealed diplomatic cables to the contrary - undisputed by the Administration).

      We can cite thousands of guns that left border-state gunshops and made their way illegally into Mexico.  Their serial numbers prove that they came from a dozen or so gunshops in the area.

      Remember that sort of statement?  The DOJ and BATFE sought a modification to the existing rules regarding sale of rifles and shotguns - specifically semi-automatic and large caliber.

      As there's a pattern of straw-buyer sales, providing a constant stream of illegal guns into the hands of the Mexican cartels.

      Hell yes there is.  YOU (Project Gunwalker) put them there.

      The question is:

      Was incompetence (Heinlein's) exploited for both political and a perceived social gain?  
      Thereby restoring the Clinton-era Assault Weapon Ban, in a manner which the NRA and the GOP could not overcome:

      "This illegal gun traffic is a threat to our National Security and a violation of arms exporting treaties, both demand swift action by Congress and this Administration."

      There's where Heinlein went out for a coffee and donut with the real cops, while the malefactors took charge of it all.

      A man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything. ~ Malcolm X.

      by 43north on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 09:05:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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