Assistant AG: ‘I Do Not Know’ Who Authorized Plan to Let Drug Cartels Get Guns

By Edwin Mora | June 17, 2011 | 7:24am EDT

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Ronald Weich, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs at the Justice Department, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Commitee on Wednesday that he does not know who authorized the Justice Department’s “Operation Fast and Furious” which deliberately let operatives of Mexican drug cartels purchase guns at licensed U.S. firearms dealers and did nothing to intercept the gun purchaser or retrieve the guns even when they were under active surveillance by federal law enforcement officials.

Pressed repeatedly by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) to say who at the Justice Department authorized the operation, Weich finally responded, “I do not know the answer to that question, and the (Justice Department) inspector general is reviewing the matter.”

It was a heated exchange.

“Operation Fast and Furious,” conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, allowed dozens of so-called "straw purchasers" in the U.S. to buy thousands of guns that were supposed to be traced as they moved into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Two of the straw-purchased guns were found at the scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent’s murder. Brian Terry was murdered on Dec. 15 by alleged Mexican drug cartel operatives.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in March that he has asked the Justice Department inspector general to “look into” the Operation Fast and Furious.

“The aim of the ATF is to try to stop the flow of guns,” Holder said at the time. “I think they do a good job in that regard. Questions have been raised by ATF agents about the way in which some of these operations have been conducted. I think those questions have to be taken seriously.”

Holder said gun-tracing investigations are more difficult than other types of investigations. “Now whether there should be guns allowed to travel--or let them run, whatever the phrase is--is something that I think we have to look at and examine, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve asked the inspector general to look at the facts and see exactly what happened, and whether or not what happened was appropriate.”

Rep. Issa has described Operation Fast and Furious as “felony stupid.”

The California Republican produced internal ATF emails at Wednesday’s hearing as evidence that “those at the highest level of ATF” knew about – and “showed great interest” -- in Operation Fast and Furious. That includes ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson. (See story)

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