Republicans want records from Justice officials about botched gun operation

Republican lawmakers have requested correspondence records, including emails and handwritten notes, from a dozen senior Justice Department officials who may have been involved in a controversial gun-tracking operation.

The Hill has obtained a letter sent from Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) to Attorney General Eric Holder this week in which they ask for communication records from 12 senior officials with the Department of Justice (DOJ), including James Cole, the recently confirmed Deputy Attorney General.

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Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are investigating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ (ATF) botched operation “Fast and Furious,” which sold thousands of weapons to known and suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels.

The move comes in connection with a separate letter sent by the lawmakers to Holder on Monday asking for records of a shared drive, which they say was provided to the computers of ATF officials and could jeopardize their investigation.

The drive contained documents relating to the Fast and Furious operation that the DOJ has given to the committee and possibly documents that it has not yet handed over, their letter states.

“Allowing witnesses access to such documents could taint their testimony by allowing them to tailor their responses to what they think the committees already know,” the lawmakers wrote.

The intent of the documents on the shared drive was to brief officials on what information lawmakers had been given, according to a committee interview with William McMahon, an ATF deputy assistant director for field operations.

The lawmakers sent the letters one week after the ATF’s acting-director Kenneth Melson was interviewed with his lawyer by staff of the two committees. 

Issa’s office did not respond to questions about whether Melson’s interview revealed new information with regards to any of the 12 named officials’ possible involvement.

Shortly after the interview, Issa reversed his call a week prior for Melson to resign for his role in the Fast and Furious operation.

It remains unclear whether Melson gave lawmakers new information about who ultimately authorized the operation, which may have contributed to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Two of the weapons found at Terry’s murder scene in Arizona last December were traced to sales made under the guidance of the operation.

ATF agents who worked on the operation testified last month before Issa’s panel that their supervisors did not grant them the necessary authority to properly monitor the weapons they oversaw being sold. As a result, one of the only ways to track the weapons from sale to intended owner was if they were recovered at a crime scene, they said. 

The operation was intended to track the movements of the weapons to expose illicit gun trafficking patterns. 

Both Holder and President Obama have said that they did not authorize the operation. The Justice Department's inspector general, at Holder’s direction, has been asked to conduct its own investigation of the issue, and the administration has said it will refrain from comment until it is complete.

Grassley and Issa asked Holder to “self-report” the use of the shared information drive to the inspector general to assist in its investigation. The two lawmakers have been seeking documents from DOJ about the operation for more than four months.

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