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.