Did the Justice Department knowingly allow assault weapons and military-grade sniper rifles to cross the U.S.-Mexico border headed for drug cartels, with the goal of tracking the weapons electronically?
Documents released by top GOP oversight officials and investigative reports by news media say yes. And two AK-47s, part of Operation Fast and Furious which tracked the guns as they made their way into criminal networks, were found at the murder scene of Border Agent Brian Terry.
Attorney General Eric Holder, the official in charge of the federal agency which conducted the mission, says he doesn’t know.
“I frankly don’t know … it’s something that we take very seriously,” Holder said under grilling by by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top-ranking GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee in a hearing Wednesday.
One document indicating it was the policy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to “walk” the military-grade guns into Mexico is a memo from two months ago that tells agents not to do that, although the operation had been in place for years, Grassley said.
The March 9 memo, from the deputy attorney general, said, “we should not design or conduct undercover operations which include guns crossing the border. If we have knowledge that guns are about to cross the border, we must take immediate actions to stop the firearms from crossing the border.”
The memo came approximately one month after the Justice Department denied to Grassley that guns were crossing the border.
“If the ATF, as the agency keeps telling us, did not knowingly allow guns into the hands of traffickers, why was that directive even necessary? Why issue a memo telling people to stop doing something unless you think maybe they have been doing it?” Grassley asked Holder.
“The memo was issued because the allegations had been raised,” Holder said, “the possibility that that happened was sufficient I thought to have clarification sent to the field that we should never allow guns in an uncontrolled fashion to cross the border or actually to leave any investigation in an uncontrolled way,” Holder said.
“I don’t think it represents a change in policy, but I certainly wanted to make sure that people in the field understood that that is in fact the policy. And to the extent there was any confusion, I wanted to make sure there was none.” Holder said.