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Tag: Kenneth Melson

Dem Staff Report Says Top Justice Officials Did Not Give Green Light for Fast and Furious

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A report issued late Monday night by the Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform tries to debunk suggestions by Republicans that high level appointees at the Justice Department conceived and directed the very flawed ATF Operation Fast and Furious. It places the blame for the operation squarely on the agents in Phoenix.

“This report debunks many unsubstantiated conspiracy theories,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the top ranking Democrat,  wrote in a cover letter for the detailed report. “Contrary to repeated claims by some, the committee has obtained no evidence that Operation Fast and Furious was a politically motivated operation conceived and directed by high-level Obama administration political appointees at the Department of Justice.”

“The documents obtained and interviews conducted by the Committee indicate that it was the latest in a series of reckless and fatally flawed operations run by ATF’s Phoenix Field Division during both the previous and current administrations,” Cummings wrote.

The report counters repeated claims by Republicans like Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif) that top ranking Justice Dept. officials gave the green light for  Fast and Furious.  Under the operation, ATF’s Phoenix office encouraged gun dealers to sell to “straw purchasers”, all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels.  Some of the weapons surfaced at crime scenes including at the murder scene in Arizona of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.  Many Republicans have called for Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, to resign.

The report is expected to be met with skepticism by many Republicans and critics of ATF, which has come under intense scrutiny, and has undergone a major shakeup in management. Holder is scheduled to appear before Issa’s and Cumming’s committee on Thursday where he’s likely to get a grilling from the Republicans.

Cummings, who has sometimes been at odds with Issa over Fast and Furious, said in a press release  that the minority staff report was the result “of the Committee’s year-long investigation into the actions and circumstances that led to multiple gunwalking operations in Arizona from 2006 to 2010.”

The report concludes that the ATF Phoenix office failed to use sufficient controls to stop weapons from getting into the hands of violent criminals.

“Although this report provides a great amount of detail about what we have learned to date, it has several shortcomings,” Cummings wrote in his letter. “Despite requests from me and others, the Committee never held a hearing or even conducted an interview with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. The Committee obtained documents indicating that in 2007 he was personally informed about the failure of previous law enforcement operations involving the illegal smuggling of weapons into Mexico, and that he received a proposal to expand these operations. Since the Committee failed to speak with Mr. Mukasey, we do not have the benefit of his input about why these operations were allowed to continue after he was given this information.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings/govt. photo

“The Committee also rejected my request to hold a public hearing with Kenneth Melson, the former Acting Director of ATF, the agency primarily responsible for these operations. Although Committee staff conducted an interview with Mr. Melson, the public has not had an opportunity to hear his explanations for why these operations continued for so many years without adequate oversight from ATF headquarters.”

The report states that in 2006, ATF agents in Phoenix initiated Operation Wide Receiver with the cooperation of a local gun dealer.

“For months, ATF agents watched in realtime as traffickers purchased guns and drove them across the border into Mexico,” the report states.

The report also states “that ATF’s former Acting Director, Kenneth Melson, and ATF’s Deputy Director, William Hoover, told Committee staff that gunwalking violated agency doctrine,that they did not approve it, and that they were not aware that ATF agents in Phoenix were using the tactic in Operation Fast and Furious. They also stated that, because they did not know about the use of gunwalking in Operation Fast and Furious, they never raised it up the chain of command to senior Justice Department officials.”

The report further stated: “Former Phoenix U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke told Committee staff that although he received multiple briefings on Operation Fast and Furious, he did not approve gunwalking, was not aware it was being used, and did not inform officials in Washington about its use.”

“He told Committee staff that, at the time he approved the proposal for a broader strategy targeting cartel leaders instead of straw purchasers, he had been informed that there was no probable cause to make any arrests and that he had been under the impression that ATF agents were working closely with Mexican officials to interdict weapons.”

The report goes on to state: “Gary Grindler, the former Acting Deputy Attorney General, and Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, both stated that neither ATF nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office ever brought to their attention concerns about gunwalking in Operation Fast and Furious, and that, if they had been told, they ‘would have stopped it.’”

“When allegations of gunwalking three years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver were brought to the attention of Mr. Breuer in 2010, he immediately directed his deputy to share their concerns directly with ATF’s leadership. He testified, however, that he regretted not raising these concerns directly with the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General, stating, “if I had known then what I know now, I, of course, would have told the Deputy and the Attorney General.”

“The Committee has obtained no evidence indicating that the Attorney General authorized gunwalking or that he was aware of such allegations before they became public. None of the 22 witnesses interviewed by the Committee claims to have spoken with the Attorney General about the specific tactics employed in Operation Fast and Furious prior to the public controversy.”

ATF Hosts Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month Program at HQ

Rep. Barney Frank

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

ATF had a gathering at headquarters in D.C. the other day that wasn’t  typical of the ones you see in federal law enforcement.

The agency on Wednesday hosted its first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month program at its headquarters, with Acting Director Kenneth Melson providing remarks along with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), an openly gay Congressman.

ATF billed the event as a celebration “in recognition of the accomplishments and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to ATF and the nation, and to promote awareness of the LGBT culture.”

“ATF works to ensure sexual orientation discrimination and prejudice are not tolerated in our workplace,” said Melson. “ATF is an equal employment opportunity environment where effective and equitable participation is encouraged.”

ATF’s Acting Chief Ken Melson Strongly Resisting Stepping Down

Ken Melson/atf photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Replacing Ken Melson, acting head of ATF, could get a little messy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Melson is “strongly resisting pressure” to step down over the controversy surrounding ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious”, a flawed program that encouraged gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers with the hopes of tracing them to the Mexican cartels.   ATF lost track of some weapons that showed up at crime scenes.

The paper reported that  Melson is eager to testify to Congress about the extent of his and other officials’ involvement in the operation.

The LA Times said Melson doesn’t  want to be “the fall guy” for the program

“He is saying he won’t go,” one source told the paper.  “He has told them, ‘I’m not going to be the fall guy on this.’ ”

A second source told the paper: “He’s resisting. He does not want to go.”

Andrew Traver, head of the Chicago ATF, has been nominated by the White House to become the head of ATF. But his nomination has been stalled in the Senate because of fierce opposition from the NRA, which insists he’s too anti-gun rights.

Traver met Tuesday with Attorney Gen. Eric Holder. Reports predicted that Melson would be pressured to step down and Traver would become acting director pending the outcome of the confirmation process.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Column: Traver Likely to Become Acting Chief of ATF; Not Likely to Get Confirmed

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Andrew Traver, the man the White House nominated last November to head up ATF,  is in Washington Tuesday to speak to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.

His arrival comes in the midst of a major controversy — or screw up as some might say — involving ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious”, which encouraged gun dealers to sell to “straw purchasers” — all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels.

What’s expected to happen is that Traver, who heads up the Chicago ATF office,  will be appointed acting director of ATF, replacing the acting head Kenneth Melson, who will likely be pressured to resign.

After that, what’s also likely to happen is that Traver will never be confirmed. I could be wrong. But the NRA has launched an aggressive campaign to block his confirmation, claiming he’s very anti-gun rights. The confirmation has been stalled in the Senate.

The Obama White House doesn’t seem to have the appetite for a fight like that. And it’s  not likely to want to spend it’s political capital on Traver — at least not until the 2012 election is over.

So Traver will remain acting chief, certainly past the election. Should Obama win re-election, then he might go for a recess appointment, or just let Traver remain as acting.  Or maybe he’ll find someone who is more acceptable to the NRA, though I think that’s not likely — not if you’re looking for someone to aggressively enforce gun laws.

Unfortunately, acting directors never have the same clout,the same sway as a permanent director.   And just  in case they still have a shot at confirmation, they have to be extra careful as to what they say or what initiatives they launch or who they appoint to executive spots. They can become overly cautious. That can be very stifling and bad for the agency.

But politically, they never want to give Congress ammunition to sabotage the confirmation.

As for Meslon. Well, he was decent guy and a smart one at that. But agents thought the ex-federal prosecutor didn’t really understand the agency culture and the agents’ mindset.

As one veteran ATF agent told me: “A lot of guys thought he wasn’t the best fit. He was a nice man, but at times he could be arrogant. I don’t think he intended to come across that way. I kind of feel sorry for him.”

Washington Examiner Editorial: Don’t Make ATF’s Chief Ken Melson a Scapegoat in Operation Fast and Furious

Ken Melson/atf photo

By The Washington Examiner
Editorial Page

WASHINGTON — Credible media reports have it that Kenneth Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, will get his walking papers this week as a result of his approval of Operation Fast and Furious, aka “Gunwalker.”

That’s the program in which ATF purposely allowed as many as 2,000 lethal weapons, including assault rifles such as the infamous AK-47, to be sold to representatives of Mexican drug cartels. The idea was that ATF would be able to link the weapons to specific individuals and prosecute them after the firearms were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S. Melson and other senior ATF officials enthusiastically backed Gunwalker, which originated in the agency’s Phoenix office.

The ludicrous logic behind Gunwalker was exposed in December when a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in a confrontation with drug cartel thugs about 18 miles inside the U.S. border with Mexico in the Arizona desert. Two Gunwalker assault rifles were recovered from the scene in which Agent Brian Terry, an ex-Marine with a wife and children, died in the shootout. At least 150 Mexican law enforcement officers and an unknown number of cartel figures and civilians have also been killed with Gunwalker weapons. What ATF officials thought would become a key tool in bringing down the Mexican cartels instead, and predictably, became a U.S. government-sanctioned gun-running operation that bought enough high-powered weapons to equip hundreds of remorseless killers operating on both sides of the border.

That Melson should be removed is obvious, as should other senior ATF officials in Washington and in the field. But Gunwalker could not have gone as far as it did without the approval of senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, which is why The Washington Examiner last week called for Holder’s resignation.

To read more click here.

Sen. Grassley Wants to Know If ATF Agents Have Been Advised to Stonewall Congressional Inquiries

Sen. Grassley/official photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley on Friday expressed concerns that ATF agents are possibly being encouraged not to fully cooperate with Congressional inquiries into a controversial  ATF gun-walking program.

In a press release issued Friday, Grassley said his concerns surfaced after documents released by AFT through the Freedom of Information Act included an email to ATF Deputy Director Billy Hoover “regarding suggestions on how ATF agents should be directed to respond to congressional requests, like those from Grassley. ”

He did not indicate who wrote the email and the name of person was redacted in a copy he released. It did show the person was part of the “SMO”, which in the Justice Department stands for Senior Management Offices.

In an April 8  letter to Kenneth Melson, head of ATF, Grassley writes of the email:

“It appears to contain proposed guidance to ATF employees about how to respond to contacts from my office. The guidance instructs ATF employees that they “are in no way obligated to respond” to questions from Congress. It also attempts to prevent direct communications with my office by instructing that ATF employees “should refer congressional staff who seek information from you to the ATF’s office of congressional affairs.”

“The guidance further attempts to prevent direct communications with my office by claiming that ATF employees “are not authorized to disclose non-public information.”

“It is unclear from the email released through FOIA whether this guidance was actually communicated to ATF employees. However, it is of grave concern because, as you know, such attempts to prevent direct communications with Congress are not a lawfully authorized activity of any officer or employee of the United States whose salary is paid with appropriated funds.”

Grassley said in the press release:  “Since our investigation began, I’ve continued to be contacted by agents and others within the ATF about wrongdoing regarding Fast and Furious at the ATF and the Justice Department. If people have concerns they should be able to express themselves without feeling pressure from their bosses.”

Operation and Fast and Furious encouraged straw purchasers to buy weapons, all with the hopes of tracing them to the higher levels of the Mexican cartels.

But critics complained ATF lost track of some guns, and some were used in serious crimes.

ATF did not immediately respond for comment.

Read letter to Ken Melson

Sen. Grassley Accuses ATF of Being “Careless” in Gun Running Sting

Sen. Grassley/official photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) is voicing concern that guns purchased in an ATF sting in Arizona may have been used by bandits in a gunfight that resulted in the death in December of  border patrol agent Brian Terry near the border town of Nogales, the Arizona Republic reported.

Grassley fired off a letter to the head of ATF Kenneth Melson on Thursday suggesting ATF was being negligent by letting criminals circulate the weapons after they purchased them during a sting.

“There are serious concerns that the ATF may have become careless, if not negligent, in implementing the Gunrunner strategy,” he wrote, according to the Arizona Republic.

The paper reported that Grassley said he had information that the AK-47s recovered at the shooting scene of the agent were traced to Project Gunrunner, a much touted gun-program aimed at curbing the flow of weapons to Mexico.

“Members of the Judiciary Committee have received numerous allegations that the ATF sanctioned the sale of hundreds of assault weapons to suspected straw purchasers, who then allegedly transported these weapons throughout the southwestern border area and into Mexico,” the senator wrote in the  letter, according to the paper.

“According to the allegations, one of these individuals purchased three assault rifles with cash in Glendale, Arizona, on January 16, 2010. Two of the weapons were then allegedly used in a firefight on December 14, 2010, against Customs and Border Protection agents, killing CBP Agent Brian Terry,” he wrote.

Tom Mangan, an ATF spokesman in Phoenix, told he Arizona Republic that he was “unaware of any guns allowed to go south of the border,” either intentionally or inadvertently. “I am not aware of any internal investigation that’s going on regarding Project Gunrunner.”

Manuel Johnson, an FBI agent in Phoenix, declined to comment, as did the U.S. Border Patrol, the Republic reported.

White House Nominates Andrew Traver to Head Up ATF

Andrew Traver/zerocancer.org photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — As expected, the White House gave the nod on Monday to Andrew Traver, a 23-year-veteran of ATF, as the nominee to head the agency.

Traver has headed the ATF Chicago field division since 2004. From 2001 to 2004, he served as an assistant special agent in charge of the San Francisco office and  supervised criminal enforcement offices in the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

From 2000 to 2001, he served as the assistant special agent in charge of the New Orleans division and from 1998 to 2000 he was a criminal investigator in the Office of Inspection at ATF headquarters in Washington.

Before that, from 1993 to 1998, Traver worked as a group supervisor in the Philadelphia. He joined ATF in 1987 and first worked in the Chicago office.

Kenneth Melson, a former federal prosecutor, has been in charge of ATF on an interim basis.