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Justice Dept. Signed Off on Wiretap of ATF Gun Program Long Before it Became Controversial, Document Shows

Lanny Breuer

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Documents released Wednesday about ATF’s controversial “Operation Fast and Furious” program is stirring more controversy.

One document, released by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif), who has spearheaded an investigation into the  controversial program, showed that the Justice Department in Washington signed off on a wiretap application more than a year ago for the controversial operation. The document included the name of Assistant Attorney general Lanny Breuer, but was signed by one of his deputies Kenneth Blanco. It does not mention Operation Fast and Furious.

Issa has been trying to find out who gave the green light for the operation. On Tuesday, he pressed Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. for an answer. But Holder said he did not know if Breuer authorized the operation, which is based in Arizona and  encouraged gun dealers to sell weapons to the “straw buyers” — with the hope of tracing them to the Mexican Cartels. Some of the weapons may have been used to kill Americans.

Rep. Issa suggested on his website that the document made clear that “Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer knew about and even approved a wiretap application for suspects targeted in Operation Fast and Furious over a year ago.”

But Justice Dept. spokeswoman Tracy Schamler responded  in a statement saying the wiretap authorization was just one of thousands the Justice Department reviews each year, and was very narrow in scope , and  was in itself not an authorization for Operation Fast and Furious.

In other words, it’s still unclear what Breuer knew.

“The review process for wiretap applications is a narrow assessment of whether a legal basis exists to support a surveillance request that ultimately goes before a judge for decision,” Schmaler said.

“These reviews are not approval of the underlying investigations or operations. As the department has stated, the Fast and Furious operation was approved by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona and the ATF Phoenix Field Office. The investigation was subsequently approved by the multi-agency Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Program.”

Also released Wednesday was a Jan. 8, 2010 memo from the ATF Phoenix Field Division Office on Operation Fast and Furious, noting that the Phoenix U.S Attorney Dennis Burke was in “full agreement with the current investigative strategy.”

The memo stated that “currently our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to continue to take place … in order to further the investigation and allow for the identification of additional co-conspirators who would continue to operate and illegally traffic firearms to Mexican [Drug Trafficking Organizations].”

Issa has repeatedly said that he believes that Border Agent Brian Terry was killed by weapons bought through Operation Fast and Furious, and that the program was a big, deadly mistake.

The program is turning into a highly political, highly controversial matter. Holder and President Obama have both publicly said that they never signed off on the operation.

“The Attorney General takes the allegations that have been raised seriously, which is why he has asked the Inspector General to investigate and made clear to everyone in the Department that under no circumstances should guns be allowed to cross the border,” Schmaler said.

Read Lanny Breuer Document

Read ATF Memo


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