After ouster of ATF head, where does Fast and Furious probe go now?
ATF acting head Ken Melson stepped down Tuesday amid a probe into the ill-fated Fast and Furious gun tracing program. But Congressional investigators believe there's more blame to go around.
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In an interview with Fox News, Mr. Issa said Melson's departure was appropriate, but the congressman also praised Melson's willingness to tell Congress that his Justice Department superiors "were doing more damage control than anything," a revelation that has fueled the probe.Skip to next paragraph
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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee isn't content with Justice's personnel moves. The committee's investigation will continue “to ensure that blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department," Issa, the chairman of the committee, told The Wall Street Journal.
The investigation is slated to pick up once Congress returns from its summer break next week. Issa has requested a meeting with Mr. Holder upon his return to Washington.
"I do think we need to work jointly to get this investigation wrapped up with some satisfactory conclusions that we are not heading toward right now," Issa told Fox News. "We know we are being gamed and we think the time for the game should be up."
Melson's resignation, critics say, is a sign that the Fast and Furious scandal has begun to affect public perception of the Department of Justice and of Mr. Holder, who has been a constant target of Republican attacks since shortly after he took over at Justice. In July, Rep. Allen West, a tea party Republican from Florida, demanded Holder's resignation in wake of the Fast and Furious controversy.
"In an administration that's been plagued by failure, this is a singularly dramatic initiative failure," says Don Kates, a fellow with the Independent Institute, a libertarian think tank in Oakland, Calif. "Clearly they were not able to trace these guns, and the result has been a catastrophe in general and a catastrophe for the reputation of the Justice Department."
But while Grassley and Issa have heard testimony that some higher-ups in the Justice Department had knowledge about Operation Fast and Furious, it would be be unorthodox, but not impossible, for operational strategies to be handed to the ATF from above the agency's director, government experts say. Both Obama and Holder have denied having any knowledge of the program until after the murder of Agent Terry near Nogales, Ariz., in December.
In testimony earlier this summer, ATF Acting Deputy Director William Hoover told Congress that there was no reason for Justice officials to be aware of the tactics, "because I certainly didn't brief them on the techniques being employed in Fast and Furious."
While the investigation could still claim more political victims, it's far from clear whether a scandal that involves the US government making mistakes while trying to stop cross-border arms flow will hurt the White House.
"There's not going to be the kind of, 'Holy Moses, the government is letting us down,' as there was with Katrina," says Terry Sullivan, a political science professor at the University of North carolina, in Chapel Hill.
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