“Project Gunrunner,” an operation run by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), was designed to stop the flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico’s drug cartels, but had the opposite result. An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms claims the agency has a policy that allows guns to get in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre tells Sharyl Attkisson that many law enforcement members of the NRA are “outraged.”
On March 29th, the head of the House Oversight Committee fired off a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her agency’s refusal to turn over documents and information about the ATF “gunwalking” scandal exposed by CBS News.
“Given the gravity of this matter, this refusal is simply unacceptable,” reads the letter from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Issa is acting in concert with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). On March 4, Grassley requested information from the State Department involving then-U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual’s meetings with Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Mr. Breuer’s deputy, and other officials in Mexico City in the summer of 2010 regarding “on-going investigations” related to Project Gunrunner and its Fast and Furious component. However, the State Department has not provided any of the requested materials.
“This refusal is mystifying in its own right” and “stands in stark contradiction to the promise of transparency promoted by President Obama,” reads the Issa letter. He is now asking for the information as well. “Additionally, please explain in detail the reasons behind your refusal to answer the Senator directly.”
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is facing a Congressional subpoena today over allegations that it allowed thousands of guns to be smuggled into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
The subpoena comes from Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform. It also follows the ATF’s failure to produce the requested records voluntarily to either Issa or Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, who has also requested them.
“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 Chairman Issa said in a statement. “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.”
The subpoena demands documents relating to Project Gunrunner, including records concerning the guns found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December. As CBS News has reported, the ATF was aware of the two guns being sold to “straw purchasers” nearly a year earlier but did stop them from being smuggled into Mexico.”
For the first time, a reporter from Univision asked President Obama about the subject of the CBS News investigation. In response, the president said neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder approved the operation.
“There may be a situation here which a serious mistake was made and if that’s the case then we’ll find out and well hold somebody accountable,” he added.
In an exclusive interview with CBS News, the lead ATF official in Mexico at the time Darren Gil says somebody in the Justice Department did know about the case. Gil says his supervisor at ATF’s Washington D.C. headquarters told him point-blank the operation was approved even higher than ATF Director Kenneth Melson.
A top figure in the gunwalking controversy at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is now cooperating in the investigation.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) made that disclosure today in a letter to ATF’s acting director Kenneth Melson.
In the letter, Sen. Grassley warns that any attempt to retaliate against the cooperating official, Assistant Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Phoenix Division George Gillett, is unlawful. Prior to Sen. Grassley’s letter, Gillett had already told his supervisors, through his attorney, that he was cooperating.
Sen. Grassley also says the apparent efforts of ATF executives to stop employees from speaking with members of Congress and their staff is of “grave concern.”
“Without such direct, unfiltered communications, Congress would still be unaware of, and unable to inquire about, the serious allegations involving the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the sales of weapons to known and suspected gun Traffickers,” reads the Sen. Grassley letter.
Sen. Grassley says the Justice Department, ATF and the State Department all failed to answer information requests from Congress.
Emails found in the Project “Gunrunner” documents show that gun dealers had been warning the ATF about the operation for months.
“I wanted to make sure that none of the firearms that were sold could ever end up in the hands of the bad guys. I want to help ATF but not at the risk of safety because I have some very close friends who are U.S. Border Patrol Agents.” – Gun Shop Owner Email to ATF Supervisor (June 2010)
Coincidentally, timed with the ATF under Napolitano and Holder selling guns to the cartels also, ten people in southwestern New Mexico, including the village’s mayor, police chief, and a village trustee of Columbus, were arrested Thursday on federal charges of smuggling weapons into Mexico.
One of the suspects, 24-year-old Ignacio Villalobos, is still at large. A Mexican national, 25-year-old Manuel Ortega was also apprehended.
According to court documents filed in District Court Thursday, Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Police Chief Angelo Vega, and Trustee Blas Gutierrez are among those accused of buying weapons, ammunition, and body armor, to be smuggled into Mexico. Among the weapons purchased were AK-47-type and 9 mm weapons. The indictment says the weapons were purchased between January 2010 and March of this year.
The U.S. Department of Justice says 10 of the 11 suspects were arrested by federal, state and local authorities Thursday morning. The owner of the gun shop where the majority of the weapons were purchased, Ian Garland, was also charged.
The indictment says the suspects claimed they were buying the firearms for themselves, when in fact they were purchasing for someone else. Twelve guns that were purchased by the suspects were found in Mexico.
In October 2010 the men started feeling the heat. While federal agents were in Columbus, Mayor Espinoza used his car to try to block them, he then called Chief Vega to question the agents as to why they were in town. On February 12th, authorities stopped Councilor Gutierrez and seized 10 AK-47 type pistols. Two days later, in an undercover operation, federal agents raided the El Paso apartment the men were using to store the weapons and took 20 guns. The indictment says when the men discovered the guns were missing from the apartment, they just assumed one of their delivery men took them to Mexico. In a bold move, Chief Vega called agents about the councilor being pulled over and asked for the guns back.
Mayor Espinoza faces seven charges, including three counts of firearms smuggling. Chief Vega is only charged with conspiracy. Trustee Gutierrez faces 37 counts in all. Ignacio Villalobos, Ian Garland, Alberto Rivera, Miguel Carrillo, Ricardo Gutierrez, Manuel Ortega, and Vicente Carreon all face smuggling charges. Gutierrez’s wife, Eva Lucie Gutierrez, faces two counts of conspiracy for accompanying her husband to purchase guns, according to the indictment.