Over the July Fourth weekend, there was a major development in the Fast and Furious investigation when BATF head Ken Melman made a surprise July 4th appearance before Darrel Issa and Chuck Grassley's congressional committee put together to investigate Fast and Furious.
That operation involved BATF(Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agents allowing straw purchasers to buy over two thousand automatic weapons and then smuggle them illegally across the border to Mexican Drug cartels. The operation led to a spike in violence in Mexico, the killing in Arizona of a U.S. Border Patrol agent last December and a possible attempted cover up by the BATF and the US Department of Justice.
BATF head Melman was placed in a particularly bad light by the earlier testimony of agents, some of whom depicted him watching the illegal gun deals go down on closed circuit TV and literally rubbing his hands with glee. Melman, a temporary appointee, was set up to fall on his sword for Fast and Furious and was apparently under a great deal of pressure from the Obama Administration to 'resign'. Instead, he resisted and said he wanted to testify before the investigative committee, but in order to do that, he needed clearance from the Department of Justice.
In a particularly revolting display of partisan horse trading and disregard for justice, the ranking Senate Democrat on the committee, Patrick Leahy made a deal with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley to allow access to certain documents and allow Melman and other witnesses to testify -- in exchange for releasing holds on three Obama Administration DOJ nominees.
Testimony was set up for July 13th, but then something very interesting happened. Apparently there was a clause in the agreement between the committee and the Department of Justice saying that "witnesses who choose to attend a voluntary interview with their own lawyer are free to exercise that right rather than participate with counsel representing the Department's interests."
Melson apparently was never made aware of it, and neither were Rep. Issa or Senator Grassley and they weren't exactly pleased about not being informed. But when it became known, Melson chose to appear before the committee with his own lawyer over this last weekend.
In the letter linked above to Attorney General Eric Holder, Issa and Grassley wrote that Melson's testimony was 'extremely helpful to our investigation' which was just the first bit of bad news they had for President Obama's Attorney general:
According to Mr. Melson, it was not until after the public controversy that he personally reviewed hundreds of documents relating to the case, including wiretap applications and Reports of Investigation (ROIs). By his account, he was sick to his stomach when he obtained those documents and learned the full story.
Mr. Melson said that he told the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) at the end of March that the Department needed to reexamine how it was responding to the requests for information from Congress.
According to Mr. Melson, he and ATF's senior leadership team moved to reassign every manager involved in Fast and Furious, from the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations down to the Group Supervisor, after learning the facts in those documents. Mr. Melson also said he was not allowed to communicate to Congress the reasons for the reassignments. He claimed that ATF's senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process.However, he said that Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress. The result is that Congress only got the parts of the story that the Department wanted us to hear.
If his account is accurate, then ATF leadership appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand. That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation. The Department's inability or unwillingness to be more forthcoming served to conceal critical nformation that we are now learning about the involvement of other agencies, including the DEA and the FBI.
What Issa and Grassley are talking about is Obstruction of Justice. And the fact that some of the 'gun traffickers' were paid informants on the FBI and DEA payroll:
The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities. While this is preliminary information, we must find out if there is any truth to it. According to Acting Director Melson, he became aware of this startling possibility only after the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the indictments of the straw purchasers, which we now know were substantially delayed by the u.s. Attorney's Office and Main Justice. Mr. Melson provided documents months ago supporting his concerns to the official in the ODAG responsible for document production to the Committees, but those documents have not been provided to us.
What Melson has effectively done is to finger the Department of Justice for some felony offenses, and there's no telling how high this might go. Not only that, but by becoming what amounts to friendly witness for the committee, he's ensured their protection and made sure that any bureaucratic retaliation from the Obama Administration is going to cost a lot more in scrutiny and oversight than it's going to be worth:
Any decision about Mr. Melson's future with the Department would need to be justified solely on the basis of the facts and the needs of the agency, rather than on his decision to speak to us. We encourage you to communicate to us any additional significant information about any such decision so that we can work together to ensure that it would not impede our investigation.
For now, the Office of Inspector General is still conducting its review, and we are still conducting ours. Knowing what we know so far, we believe it would be inappropriate to make Mr. Melson the fall guy in an attempt to prevent further congressional oversight.
Issa has already stated that he has proof Eric Holder was out and out lying about what he knew about Fast and Furious and when he knew it. Now it's just a matter of moving up the ladder and getting these people to rat out one another until they get to Holder.
The cover up's always worse than the original offense in these matters.
Rob Miller blogs at Joshuapundit