Congressman raises stakes in 'Fast and Furious' probe, targeting Eric Holder
Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas wants a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress the truth about Operation Fast and Furious, a now-discredited gun-tracking program aimed at Mexico's drug lords.
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The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a similar interdiction effort, called Operation Wide Receiver, occurred under President George W. Bush as early as 2006. Both programs led to indictments. Government officials have explained that the programs were born out of frustration that BATFE was prosecuting small-time arms dealers instead of hunting bigger players in the Mexican cartels.Skip to next paragraph
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But the programs have had no shortage of critics. National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre has even suggested that Operation Fast and Furious was ultimately intended to foment violence in order to build support in the United States for more gun control. Some gun law experts say the program may have broken federal gun-trafficking laws.
"It's a crime to obstruct Congress, and of course it's a crime to participate in international gun smuggling," Dave Kopel, a gun control expert at the conservative Independence Institute in Golden, Colo., said recently on an Independence Institute webcast. "I don't know what part of federal law allows federal officials to commit the crime of international gun trafficking." He also said, "There's a growing possibility that … there's perjury."
One problem with Operation Fast and Furious was that effective mechanism for tracing guns were never instituted. In at least two cases, smugglers who had been stopped and searched were allowed to proceed with their shipments. More than 2,000 guns ultimately "walked," meaning US agents lost track of them, and many traveled across the border. As a result, the Mexican government, which was mostly out of the loop, has called for the extradition and prosecution of US officials who signed off on the program.
The operation began in late 2009 as the US was feeling pressure from Mexico to stop the flow of arms coming from America. Justice Department officials say the details were worked out at the local BATFE level, in Phoenix, with the help of US attorney's offices. Mr. Obama said earlier this year he didn't know about the program until after Agent Terry's death Dec. 14. Two guns that US agents had lost track of were found at the crime scene.
Though memos to Holder that reference Operation Fast and Furious date back to July 2010, Holder's May testimony about when he learned of it was "consistent and truthful," Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told news outlets Tuesday. Those references, she said, were too brief to convey much about the operation.