Obama dodges ATF question

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama today dodged questions about the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling investigation, but put Attorney General Eric Holder on the hot seat.

“As you know, my attorney general has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun-running to pass through into Mexico,” Obama said in a careful answer.

But Obama did not deny that neither he nor Holder knew of the investigation, and he did not say that he would aid the congressional inquiry into increasingly controversial project.

The Fast and Furious investigation was launched by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms in 2006 to investigate the criminal networks that smuggle — or “walk” — legal guns from the United States to drug gangs in Mexico. The project allowed criminal-suspects to buy hundreds of guns, some of which were sent to Mexico.

Critics say the project went awry, partly because at least one U.S. border-security officer was killed in a gunfight that included one of the U.S.-bought guns.

Media outlets in Mexico are treating the investigation as a scandal, partly because of claims that the smuggled guns were used by warring drug-gangs in Mexico. (Obama chides GOP for not giving up ‘sacred cow’)

The project is now being investigated by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the minority leader of the Senate’s committee on the judiciary.

In a press statement, Issa condemned Obama’s comments.

“President Obama’s remarks today on Operation Fast and Furious were disappointing. There was no sign of urgency to provide answers or explain why no one at the Justice Department has accepted responsibility for authorizing an illegal gunwalking operation,” Issa said. “The American people expect more from the President than unsubstantiated assertions that the Attorney General didn’t know about this reckless program and no explanation about who authorized it.”

A Spanish-language reporter asked, “Members of Congress and the government of Mexico are still waiting for answers,” and “Are you planing to replace ATF leaders and when shall we expect results from the current investigation?”

Obama declined to offer any information or to say he would replace ATF officials, but he did put the focus on Holder, whose agency includes the ATF.

“The investigation is still pending,” he said. “I am not going to comment on a current investigation. I’ve made very clear my views that that [letting guns go to Mexico] would not be an appropriate step by the ATF and we have to find out what happened.” (Boehner responds, calls Obama ‘sorely mistaken’)

Congressional investigators say their inquiry has been stalled by inadequate cooperation from agency officials and by incomplete access to agency documents.

President Obama has complete authority to examine actions taken by officials in his administration, which includes the Justice Department and ATF. He also has wide legal authority to release agency documents to Congress.