New documents detail how Justice sent faulty info on gun walking

New documents released Friday night by the Justice Department detail how top officials struggled to respond to Congressional questions about a controversial “gun walking” program, including how the department ultimately gave inaccurate information to Congress.

Over 1,000 pages of emails sent to Capitol Hill detail officials’ debate on how to defend the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The bureau came under question by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) after he received information about the “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking operation, in which the government allowed guns to be sold guns to known and suspected criminals with the hope of tracking and convicting them. Two ATF guns were found at the scene of a shootout where border agent Brian Terry was killed.

{mosads}Dennis Burke, the former U.S. attorney for Arizona who resigned in August, pushed for a forceful response to Grassley’s inquiry, at one point calling his staff “willing stooges for the Gun Lobby.” Meanwhile, emails indicate that Justice Department officials looked to soften the language.

“Every version gets weaker. We will be apologizing…by tomorrow afternoon,” wrote Burke.

A spokesperson for Grassley said Burke “personally apologized” for the tone of the emails after DOJ informed him they would be made public.

“The disparaging emails from Mr. Burke about Senator Grassley and his staff are disappointing from somebody who should have known much more about the gunwalking,” said Beth Levine, Grassley’s spokesperson. She added that the emails raise “even more questions” about the program and what various officials knew about it.

In a February letter sent to Grassley, the Justice Department claimed that the allegations that ATF let guns travel across the border were false. 

“ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico,” wrote Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general.

The Justice Department formally withdrew that letter Friday, saying it contained inaccurate information.

Top officials, including Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, maintain they received inaccurate information in putting together the letter, but the source of the inaccuracies is not yet known. Burke maintained in one email that some of Grassley’s questions were based on “categorical falsehoods.” The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating where the information came form.

The emails will likely  be a hot topic of conversation when Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. Some Republicans have called for Holder to resign over the scandal, while he has maintained such gun walking programs are “fundamentally flawed.”

Tags Charles Grassley Eric Holder
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