Note: Would advise some serious skepticism about the new
"documentation", not all of the following rings true, to say the
least. Just because it's "documented" doesn't mean it's true. Early
Justice Dept. details how it got statements wrong
By PETE YOST | AP – 4 mins 6 secs ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Friday provided Congress
with documents detailing how department officials gave inaccurate
information to a U.S. senator in the controversy surrounding
Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed law enforcement initiative
aimed at dismantling major arms trafficking networks on the Southwest
In a letter last February to Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican
on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department said that
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had not sanctioned the
sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser and that the agency
makes every effort to intercept weapons that have been purchased
illegally. In Operation Fast and Furious, both statements turned out
to be incorrect.
The Justice Department letter was responding to Grassley's statements
that the Senate Judiciary Committee had received allegations the ATF
had sanctioned the sale of hundreds of assault weapons to suspected
straw purchasers. Grassley also said there were allegations that two
of the assault weapons had been used in a shootout that killed
customs agent Brian Terry.
In an email four days later to Justice Department colleagues, then-
U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Phoenix said that "Grassley's
assertions regarding the Arizona investigation and the weapons
recovered" at the "murder scene are based on categorical falsehoods.
I worry that ATF will take 8 months to answer this when they should
be refuting its underlying accusations right now." That email marked
the start of an internal debate in the Justice Department over what
and how much to say in response to Grassley's allegations. The fact
that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into Terry's murder
prompted some at the Justice Department to argue for less disclosure.
Some of what turned out to be incorrect information was emailed to
Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice
Department's criminal division. Breuer sent an email saying "let's
help as much as we can" in responding to Grassley.
The emails sent to Capitol Hill on Friday showed that Burke supplied
additional incorrect information to the Justice Department's criminal
division that ended up being forwarded to Breuer. For example, Burke
said that the guns found at the Terry murder scene were purchased at
a Phoenix gun shop before Operation Fast and Furious began. In fact,
the operation was under way at the time and the guns found at the
Terry murder scene were part of the probe. Breuer was one of the
recipients of that information. In written comments this week to
Grassley, Breuer said that he was on a three-day official trip to
Mexico at the time of the Justice Department response and that he was
aware of, but not involved in, drafting the Justice Department
statements to Grassley. Breuer says he cannot say for sure whether he
saw a draft of the letter before it was sent to Grassley.
Where Burke got the inaccurate information is now part of an inquiry
conducted by the inspector general's office at the Justice Department.
Burke's information was followed by a three-day struggle in which
officials in the office of the deputy attorney general, the criminal
division and the ATF came up with what turned out to be an inaccurate
response to Grassley's assertions.
Initial drafts of the letter reflected the hard tone of Burke's
unequivocal assertions that the allegations Grassley was hearing from
ATF agents were wrong. Later drafts were more measured, prompting
Burke to complain in one email: "Every version gets weaker. We will
be apologizing" to Grassley "by tomorrow afternoon."
In another email, Burke wrote, "By the way, what is so offensive
about this whole project" of response "is that Grassley's staff,
acting as willing stooges for the Gun Lobby, have attempted to
distract from the incredible success in dismantling" Southwest Border
"gun trafficking operations" and "not uttering one word of rightful
praise and thanks to ATF — but, instead, lobbing this reckless
despicable accusation that ATF is complicit in the murder of a fellow
federal law enforcement officer."
On Friday night, Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said that after
learning from the Justice Department that the emails would be
released, "Mr. Burke personally apologized to Sen. Grassley's staff
for the tone and the content of the emails."
It is unusual for the Justice Department to provide such detail of
its internal deliberations as it did on Friday with Congress.
The department turned over 1,364 pages of material after concluding
"that we will make a rare exception to the department's recognized
protocols and provide you with information related to how the
inaccurate information came to be included in the letter," Deputy
Attorney General James Cole wrote Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-
Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform
Committee, which is looking into the Obama administration's handling
of Operation Fast and Furious.
Operation Fast and Furious involved more than 2,000 weapons that were
purchased by straw buyers at Phoenix-area gun stores. Nearly 700 of
the Fast and Furious guns have been recovered — 276 in Mexico and 389
in the United States, according to ATF data as of Oct. 20.
Amid probes by Republicans in Congress and the IG, the Justice
Department in August replaced Burke, acting ATF Director Kenneth
Melson and the lead prosecutor in Operation Fast and Furious.