Issa reverses call for ATF head's resignation

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder backed away from calls for the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Kenneth Melson to resign over a controversial gun-tracking operation. 

The letter detailing the lawmakers' interview with Melson comes two weeks after Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called for the acting-director to resign for his role in the agency's “Fast and Furious” operation, which oversaw the sale of thousands of weapons to known and suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartel members.

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“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,” said the lawmakers in the letter which was dated July 5 and released on Wednesday.

According to the congressional letter, Melson said he first learned about the "Fast and Furious" operation after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December at a shootout in Arizona, where two guns were found and later tied to sales made under the guidance of the gun-tracking operation.

Issa’s earlier calls for Melson's resignation were based in part off an email from 2010 that he released last month. 

Under the email’s subject heading “Director’s questions,” the supervisor of the Fast and Furious operation wrote to the assistant special agent in charge of Phoenix field operations with an Internet protocol address for one of the video monitoring units in a gun store authorized to sell guns to the suspects.

“With this information, acting Director Melson was able to sit at his desk in Washington and — himself — watch a live feed of the straw buyers entering the gun stores to purchase dozens of AK-47 variants,” said a Republican committee statement.

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A spokesman for Issa said Melson described that email as “a snapshot of a chain” of requested information and said that he did not receive the IP addresses or watch the cameras. 

The lawmakers also determined from their interview with Melson that other agencies – including the FBI and DEA – were tracking some of the alleged criminals that the ATF was going after, but that information was not properly shared between the agencies.

“If this information is accurate, then the whole misguided operation might have been cut short if not for catastrophic failures to share key information,” the letter reads. 

“If agencies within the same Department, co-located at the same facilities, had simply communicated with one another, then ATF might have known that gun trafficking ‘higher-ups’ had been already identified.

“Nearly a decade after the September 11th attacks, the stovepipes of information within our government may still be causing tragic mistakes long after they should have been broken down."