House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) Chairman Jason Chaffetz subpoenaed two Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) officials who refused to appear at a congressional hearing Thursday on the agency’s failures when a federal agent was murdered in 2011 by a Mexican drug cartel.
The Utah Republican described the excuses offered by Ronald Turk, ATF associate deputy director and chief operating officer, and William Temple, the agency’s special agent in charge of the Dallas Field Division, as “a load of crap” for failing to appear for questioning about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Jaime Zapata’s death.
ATF Acting Director Thomas Brandon told the hearing the two men skipped “voluntarily,” but he agreed with their decision.
“There is no excuse for that, and we will not tolerate that,” Chaffetz said, signing the subpoenas in the middle of the hearing. Appearing before Congress is “not optional,” he said.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) issued a report last week revealing ATF bypassed multiple opportunities to arrest or at least interview gangsters Otilio Osorio and Robert Riendfliesh.
Osorio and Riendfliesh were linked to the guns used in the February 2011 Los Zetas drug cartel’s attack on Zapata and his fellow ICE agent, Victor Avila.
Avila survived his wounds, but Zapata did not.
ATF agents in November 2010 witnessed Osario and his brother, Ranferi, “complete a transfer of 40 firearms,” but did not intervene, the IG found. (RELATED: Gun Smugglers Were Ignored Until They Killed An Ice Agent)
Members of the HOGR and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) have demanded answers for five years on the circumstances surrounding Zapata’s murder.
Zapata’s death came in the same time period as ATF’s Fast and Furious “gun-walking” scandal, in which the agency’s Arizona Field Office allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal buyers known to be associated with cartels. The operations went awry and led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in a gunfight.
Congress has criticized ATF for recurring problems with its informants and cigarette and drug smuggling. The New York Times reported last month that ATF allows informants to run their own cigarette rings and keep the profits.
Chaffetz ordered Turk and Temple to testify before HOGR on March 22.
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