For the first time since Republicans took control of the House and gained the power of congressional subpoena, the Obama administration has declined to comply with a subpoena issued by top GOP oversight official Rep. Darrell Issa.
In the face of a subpoena by Issa, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) provided no documents by the April 13 deadline, according to an April 20 letter from Issa to ATF’s director, Kenneth Melson.
Issa is threatening contempt proceedings if ATF does not comply.
At issue are documents related to Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, in which ATF allowed American guns to be smuggled into Mexico and sold to Mexican drug cartels. The goal of the program was to track the illegal weapons and drug markets after they were used in crimes and abandoned using ballistics information and serial numbers for the guns.
A spokesman for ATF declined to comment about the matter saying, “we can’t respond to the media or anyone else until we respond to the chairman himself.”
But in an April 13 letter to Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch cited the Justice Department’s policy not to disclose details about “ongoing criminal investigations” as a reason not to comply with the document demand.
Issa says the objection is spurious.
“We are not conducting a concurrent investigation with the Department of Justice, but rather an independent investigation of the Department of Justice,” Issa says in his April 20 letter, citing three historical examples of congressional oversight of Justice Department investigations, including during the Teapot Dome scandal in 1922.
ATF did provide access to four documents for “in camera” review at Justice Department headquarters, Issa says, but the documents were “general” and did not “directly pertain” to Operation Fast and Furious, in which guns were permitted to be smuggled to Mexico.
In his letter threatening contempt proceedings, Issa provides as attachments several documents he has obtained independently from his official request to the agency.
One of the documents included is a “significant information report” showing that two AK-47 rifles allowed to be sold to Mexican drug cartels were recovered from the scene of border patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder.
Issa says any decision to allow American guns to be sold to Mexican drug cartels was likely made by top-ranking Justice Department officials.
“It is nearly unfathomable that our government would allow straw purchasers to illegally acquire automatic weapons and transport them into Mexico, in furtherance of an ATF-led and inspired investigation. As I understand Department of Justice operations, such programs would require the approval of top officials,” Issa says.