Hot Seat: McCain Grills Napolitano, Mueller on Botched Gun Sting

By Fred Lucas | September 13, 2011 | 5:31pm EDT

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, left, and FBI Director Robert Mueller prepare to testify on Sept. 22, 2010, before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing to examine nine years after 9/11, focusing on confronting the terrorist threat to the homeland.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

( – FBI Director Robert Mueller believes the FBI did not play a role in the botched gun-walking sting operation along the Mexican border known as Operation Fast and Furious, he said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, at the same hearing, also denied knowing about the matter until after the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in December 2010.

Operation Fast and Furious was run by the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It began in late 2009, allowing straw purchasers to illegally buy guns with the intent of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels. But the operation was halted in December 2010 after two weapons from the program were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked about the matter during a hearing by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Mueller said the FBI is investigating the Terry murder but affirmed that the case is being looked at in detail by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

“I am not privy to what the inspector general’s investigation shows at this juncture,” Mueller said before the committee on Tuesday. “Our concern is the extent to which there was FBI involvement, and I have reason to believe there was not FBI involvement in the operation.”

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A congressional investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee confirmed that the ATF led the operation but that it also involved the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

“The ATF was the principle agency involved,” Mueller said.

Still, McCain asked that Mueller supply him with more information that the FBI might have about the operation.

“It would be nice if you could get back with me,” McCain said. “But we’ve got a dead Border Patrol agent. We have a situation that at least appeared at the time was out of control. It’s been now a number of weeks since this happened, and you’d like to get back to me?”

Napolitano told McCain she did not know about Operation Fast and Furious until after the murder of Agent Terry.

“I’m sure you’re familiar Madame Secretary with Operation Fast and Furious,” McCain asked at the hearing. “Given the high level of information-sharing between departments, were you made aware of the operation when it was underway?”

Napolitano said, “No.”

McCain followed, “When was the first time you or someone in DHS was made aware of the operation?”

Napolitano answered, “Senator, I would have to go back and check. It was, I think, somewhere around the time of the death of our agent in Southern Arizona.”

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