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More DOJ Malpractice

A misbegotten scheme to boost gun control turns deadly.

Jul 25, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 42 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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What’s more, the House report notes, “though many line agents objected vociferously, ATF and DOJ leadership continued to prevent them from making every effort to interdict illegally purchased firearms.” In fact, as early as this past December, months before congressional investigators began probing the issue in earnest, ATF agent Vince Cefalu was publicly speaking out against the agency’s gunwalking operation. Cefalu now reports he was sent a termination notice at the end of June, an action he claims is politically motivated.

The Justice Department has been less than forthcoming with congressional investigators. As of the release of the June 14 congressional report, the ATF and Justice Department had been unresponsive to seven letters and a subpoena from the House oversight committee.

Then over the July 4 holiday, things took an unusual turn. Acting ATF director Kenneth Melson appeared before Senate Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform investigators. Remarkably, Melson made the appearance with his private attorney rather than with Justice Department representatives, consistent with Melson’s reported contention that higher-ups in the Justice Department had been trying to muzzle him.

Melson told congressional investigators that the gunwalking operation was part of a special task force being run by the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix. Further, even in his capacity heading up the ATF, he had no knowledge of what was going on. Melson’s testimony came in the wake of a June 18 Wall Street Journal report on the Justice Department pressuring him to resign over the scandal. If Melson truly didn’t know the operational details even as the Justice Department was maneuvering to make him the fall guy, it’s no wonder he would get his own attorney, break his silence, and implicate the Justice Department.

It also appears that numerous other law enforcement agencies—including the FBI, DEA, ICE, U.S. Marshals, and Homeland Security—were involved in Fast and Furious to varying degrees. Again, the coordination of that many law enforcement agencies clearly points to involvement at high levels of the Justice Department.

“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,” Representative Daryl Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judicary Committee, wrote in a July 6 letter to Eric Holder.

There’s one more disturbing wrinkle that has yet to be ironed out—the role of federally licensed firearms dealers in Fast and Furious. Were they coerced into participating in the operation under threat of losing their licenses as firearms dealers? Troublingly, even if they knowingly made illegal sales to criminals at the behest of law enforcement, that wouldn’t immunize them from prosecution.

In February, the Mexican government retained a U.S. law firm, Reid Collins & Tsai, LLP, to pursue “claims against certain entities and individuals in the U.S. believed to be participating in .  .  . the illegal manufacture, import/export, or sale of weapons, or other conduct that may be harming Mexico.” That’s according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act paperwork, which must be filed with—yes—the Justice Department before a U.S. law firm can represent a foreign country. Incredibly, Mexico could take U.S. firearms dealers to court for their unwitting and unwilling role in Fast and Furious.

Despite the growing scandal, the White House is moving full steam ahead with planned gun regulations. On July 11, an ATF-Justice Department order went into effect requiring gun dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas to report the purchase of two or more semi-automatic rifles over five days that are greater than .22 caliber and include a detachable magazine, a description so broad it encompasses a huge segment of the commerce in ordinary hunting rifles. The justification, naturally, is stemming the flow of guns into Mexico, even as that rationale is blowing up in the administration’s face.

Taken together, the Mexican government’s legal maneuvering and the Obama executive order raise the unsettling question of whether the White House and Justice Department have coordinated with a foreign country against U.S. gun dealers to help move forward a gun control agenda.

The NRA was quick to slam the executive order, saying, “$40 billion transnational criminal enterprises don’t fill out paperwork and are not deterred by paperwork violations. This is a blatant effort by the Obama administration and ATF to divert the focus of Congress and the general public from their gross incompetence in the Fast and Furious scandal.”

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