Note: this one getting widespread coverage around the state. Public
comments lean strongly to "put them all in jail"
Bush-era gun probe in Tucson sent guns to traffickers, sources say
By Pete Yost The Associated Press | Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2011
WASHINGTON — The federal government under the Bush administration ran
an operation in Tucson that allowed hundreds of guns to be
transferred to suspected arms traffickers — the same tactic that
congressional Republicans have criticized President Barack Obama's
administration for using, two federal law enforcement officials said
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other
Republicans have been hammering the Obama Justice Department over the
practice known as "letting guns walk." The congressional target has
been Operation Fast and Furious, which was designed to track small-
time gun buyers at several Phoenix-area gun shops up the chain to
make cases against major weapons traffickers. In the process,
federal agents lost track of many of the more than 2,000 guns linked
to the operation.
When Bush, a Republican, was president, the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Tucson used a similar enforcement
tactic in a program it called Operation Wide Receiver. The fact that
there were two such ATF investigations years apart in separate
administrations raises the possibility that agents in still other
cases may have allowed guns to "walk."
For months, Issa and other Republicans have focused on whether
Attorney General Eric Holder misled Congress, suggesting that he knew
more than he has admitted about Operation Fast and Furious.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith,
R-Texas, called on Obama to direct the Justice Department to appoint
a special counsel to investigate. Smith suggested that newly released
department documents point to the attorney general knowing about the
Operation Fast and Furious as early as July 2010.
Federal law enforcement officials familiar with the matter say
Operation Wide Receiver began in 2006 after the agency received
information about a suspicious purchase of firearms. The
investigation concluded in 2007 without any charges being filed.
After Obama took office, the Justice Department reviewed Wide
Receiver and discovered that ATF had permitted guns to be transferred
to suspected gun traffickers, according to the officials, who spoke
on condition of anonymity because the practice is under investigation
by Congress and the Justice Department inspector general's office.
In a statement, Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate
Judiciary Committee, said that "whether it's Operation Fast and
Furious, Operation Wide Receiver, or both, it's clear that guns were
walked, and people high in the Justice Department knew about it.
There's no excuse for walking guns, and if there are more operations
like this, Congress and the American people need to know."
Following the discovery that agents in Tucson let the guns "walk," a
tactic which has long been against Justice Department policy, the
department under Obama decided to bring charges against those who had
come under investigation in 2006.
To date in Wide Receiver, nine people have been charged with making
false statements in acquisition of firearms and illicit transfer,
shipment or delivery of firearms. Two of the nine defendants have
pleaded guilty and a plea hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13 for two
Last October, a Justice Department lawyer, Jason Weinstein, raised
concerns about investigative methods in Operation Wide Receiver and
about the timing of announcing indictments in both Wide Receiver and
Fast and Furious.
"It's a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked, but it
is a significant set of prosecutions," Weinstein wrote in a Justice
Department email turned over to Congress, which released the document.
Weinstein raised the question in asking whether Lanny Breuer, the
assistant attorney general who runs the Justice Department's criminal
division, should participate in a news conference when indictments in
Fast and Furious and the case resulting from Wide Receiver were
The two federal law enforcement officials said Weinstein's language
about "a tricky case" referred to Wide Receiver, not Fast and Furious.
In an emailed reply to Weinstein, James Trusty, at the time deputy
chief in the gang unit at the Justice Department, said "it's not
going to be any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used
in MX (Mexico), so I'm not sure how much grief we get for 'guns
walking.' It may be more like, 'Finally, they're going after people
who sent guns down there."
The two law enforcement officials said the language of Trusty's email
also refers to the Tucson case, not Fast and Furious.
Trusty's email adds "I think so" on the question of whether Breuer
should participate in a press conference, but Trusty adds that
"timing will be tricky too."
It continued: "Looks like we'll be able to unseal the Tucson case
sooner than the Fast and Furious (although this may be just the
difference between Nov and Dec). It's not clear how much we're
involved in the main F and F case, but we have Tucson and now a new,
related case with (deleted) targets."
The Justice Department blacked out the number of targets in this
apparent related third case before turning the email over to
congressional investigators on the House Oversight and Government
Fast and Furious was a response to longstanding criticism of ATF for
concentrating on small-time gun violations and failing to attack the
kingpins of weapons trafficking.
Operation Fast and Furious came to light after two assault rifles
purchased by a now-indicted small-time buyer under scrutiny in the
operation turned up at a shootout in Arizona where Customs and Border
Protection agent Brian Terry was killed.
Read more: http://azstarnet.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/