US gun-tracing program in Mexican drug war comes under congressional fire
Allegations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed US arms to flow to Mexican cartels are now facing congressional scrutiny, including questions about whether that may have contributed to the deaths of a US law enforcement officer and numerous Mexicans.
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“The Columbus, N.M., incident marks a rare instance in which federal officials acknowledge guns from an ATF sting have crossed over to another crime ring, affecting a sister federal agency,” CPI journalists John Solomon, David Heath, and Ricardo Sandoval Palos wrote in late March.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier this year, Kenneth Gonzales, the US Attorney for New Mexico, told the Wall Street Journal that he could not provide any extra information about the circumstances of the Columbus raid, which took place in March. But he acknowledged that some of the guns tied to the operation were found in Mexico.
“Every effort was made through the course of this investigation to keep that from happening,” Mr. Gonzales said.
Both Obama and Holder have said they only learned of Operation Fast and Furious after the scandal broke in January, although Holder played up BATFE's Project Gunrunner, under which Fast and Furious was spawned, in a speech in Mexico in 2009, saying that $10 million of the 2009 stimulus bill would go to fund new arms interdiction measures amid disputed reports that up to 90 percent of illegal guns found in Mexico came from the US.
“My attorney general has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun-running to be able to pass through into Mexico,” Obama said at a press conference in late June. “I’ve made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF, and we’ve got to find out how that happened. As soon as the investigation’s completed, I think appropriate actions will be taken.”
The DOJ's inspector general is conducting an internal investigation and the Justice Department has released over 2,000 documents to congressional investigators. Grassley and Issa have accused the DOJ of coaching witnesses, stonewalling their investigation, and redacting documents with a heavy hand.
For their part, BATFE officials have defended some of their actions, saying the lack of a stronger federal antitrafficking statute has hampered the agency's attempts to control the flow of illegal arms across the border.
To that end, House Democrats on Friday introduced the Stop Gun Trafficking and Strengthen Law Enforcement Act of 2011 to curtail what the Violence Policy Center's Kristen Rand called “a virtually unregulated bazaar of military-style firearms” on the US side of the border.
Also this week, the Obama administration put new multiple gun sales reporting requirements into place for 8,500 gun shops along the southern US border, fueling criticism from the NRA and conservative commentators that Fast and Furious was a White House political ploy to link US weapons to Mexican cartels in order to build support for stronger gun control on the US side of the border.
On Wednesday, House Republicans voted to strip funding for the new requirements out of the federal budget.