In a letter Tuesday, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley pressed Attorney General Eric Holder for details about a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives memorandum that indicates his Department of Justice may have tried to cover up the gunwalking tactics that were at the heart of Operation Fast and Furious.
Gary Styers, an ATF special agent in the Lubbock, Texas field office, wrote what Grassley described as a “Fast and Furious memorandum” on Feb. 3, 2011. In it, Styers described how two investigators for Grassley’s Senate Judiciary Committee office had contacted him the day before about the Fast and Furious operation.
The memo described a specific operation in which guns were allowed to walk across the Mexican border. Grassley told Holder that “according to ATF personnel, the memorandum was discussed by high level ATF personnel and possibly forwarded to DOJ headquarters on February 3, 2011.”
On Feb. 4 — one day later — Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich signed a letter to Grassley denying that guns were ever allowed to walk, including in Fast and Furious. The DOJ withdrew that letter to Congress nine months later, admitting that the statement was false.
“The possibility that DOJ was aware of this memorandum [the Styers memo] on February 3, 2011, and still sent the erroneous letter to Congress on February 4, 2011, raises more questions about DOJ’s claim that faulty information from department components inadvertently led to the false letter,” Grassley wrote to Holder.
“This was direct, documented information from street level agents in a far better position to know the facts than the senior supervisory personnel whom DOJ claims to have relied upon for information about the allegations.”
Grassley wrote that he wants Holder to disclose the names of DOJ personnel who knew about the memo before Weich’s letter made it to Congress on Feb. 4, 2011. He also said he wants to be sure the department has gathered and preserved all its records related to the memo, and he asked Holder if he would provide those records to Congress.
In February 2011, Grassley’s investigators talked with Styers for more than a half-hour. In his letter to Holder on Tuesday, Grassley wrote that the “conversation centered on the ATF agent’s recollection of how Fast and Furious was executed and his recollection confirmed the allegations my office had heard from other ATF whistleblowers.”
After that conversation, Styers called his boss, Jim Luera, the resident agent in charge of the Lubbock ATF field office. Luera asked him to document what he told Grassley’s lawyers, and he did.
“Special Agent Styers … relayed that one of the operations was a suspected transaction that was to occur at a gas station and detailed agents were asked to cover the transaction,” Styers wrote in the Feb. 3, 2011 memo, describing himself in the third person.
“While positioning to observe the suspects, Special Agent Styers and other detailed agents were told by Special Agent [Hope] McAllister that agents were too close and would burn the operation. Special Agent McAllister told all the agents to leave the immediate area. While the agents were repositioning, the transaction between the suspects took place and the vehicle that took possession of the firearms eventually left the area without agents following it.”
Styers added later in his memo that Grassley’s investigators asked him “what he felt was incorrect about the way the Fast and Furious case was conducted.”
“Special Agent Styers explained that first and foremost, it is unheard of to have an active wiretap investigation without full time dedicated surveillance units on the ground,” he wrote. “Special Agent Styers relayed that no other agents in the group were assigned to surveillance on the Fast and Furious case. Special Agent Styers said that other agencies or task force officers may have been used to conduct surveillance and respond to calls of FFLs [federal firearms licensees], but it seemed that either the case agent or group supervisor would poll the office for agents who were available to respond at short notice.”
“Secondly, Special Agent Styers said that it appeared odd to have a majority of ATF Agents working on a wiretap investigation who had never worked such a case.”
Grassley told Holder in his Tuesday letter that he knows Styers’ memo “traveled rapidly through ATF’s chain of command.”
“The memorandum was emailed on February 3, 2011, from the Dallas Field Division to Phoenix SAC [Special Agent in Charge] William Newell and Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon,” Grassley wrote. “Records that the Justice Department has withheld from Congress, which were only made available for review in camera, show an email chain attaching this memorandum was sent to Assistant Director of Field Operations Mark Chait at ATF headquarters by the afternoon of February 3, 2011.”
Grassley added that “ATF personnel” have told his office that the Styers memo “was discussed by high level ATF personnel and possibly forwarded to DOJ headquarters on February 3, 2011.”
“Specifically, it has been alleged that individuals within the Deputy Attorney General’s (DAG’s) office and the Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA) at the department were aware of or actually read the memorandum before the department’s February 4, 2011, letter was sent,” Grassley continued. “Some individuals who spoke with my office claim they were ‘alarmed’ by the substance of the memorandum and it caused such a stir that ATF planned to put a panel together to address the allegations but someone within DOJ suppressed the idea.”
Grassley added that it was “unknown” until “late 2011” that Styers had even authored such a memorandum, which could be a sign that the DOJ wanted to hide the memo’s existence from congressional investigators.
Late last week, Grassley and House oversight committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa released more Fast and Furious documents indicating an Obama administration cover-up. One document showed that officials at ATF’s headquarters had planned talking points meant to mislead the public about Operation Fast and Furious and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder before Grassley — or anyone else — asked any questions about it.