Monday, February 10, 2014

Sentencing set for Fast and Furious suspect

ssociated Press

PHOENIX (AP) - A Mexican man is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent whose death revealed a botched law enforcement sting in which agents lost track of hundreds of guns sold to criminals.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes is the only defendant to face justice in the U.S. in the death of Agent Brian Terry, whose family is traveling to Arizona to attend Monday's sentencing hearing. Prosecutors are seeking 30 years in prison for Osorio-Arellanes, who was wounded in the shootout on Dec. 14, 2010.
The gunbattle brought attention to the Fast and Furious operation in which agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed suspected gun smugglers to purchase weapons from Phoenix-area shops with the intention of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

'Fast and Furious' gun turns up at Mexico shootout scene

A gun from the failed U.S. operation known as "Fast and Furious" turned up at the scene of a shootout between Mexican authorities and alleged cartel gunmen last month, according to CNN.
U.S. officials told CNN at least one AK-47-style gun that could be traced back to the failed gun-walking scheme was found at the scene.

The shootout on Dec. 18 left five alleged cartel members dead in Puerto Penasco, a popular tourist site in Mexico.
The now-defunct Fast and Furious program began in 2009 and was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Agents allowed low-level weapons purchasers to cross the Mexican border in an attempt to expose trafficking routes used by Mexican cartels. But the agency ultimately lost track of some weapons, including two found at the scene of the killing of a border patrol agent in 2010.
The ATF acknowledged that weapons from the operation would likely continue to turn up at crime scenes.
“ATF has accepted responsibility for the mistakes made in the Fast and Furious investigation and at the attorney general's direction we have taken appropriate and decisive action to ensure that these errors will not be repeated,” the bureau said in a statement to CNN.
"And we acknowledge that, regrettably, firearms related to the Fast and Furious investigation will likely continue to be recovered at future crime scenes," it added.
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) led the congressional investigation into the program.
Grassley, in a statement to CNN, expressed regret that no one in the administration had yet been held accountable.
“Unfortunately, guns from Fast and Furious will be found in operations like this for years to come," he said.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

‘Fast and Furious’ requires a judicial resolution

By Mitchel A. Sollenberger and Mark J. Rozell

In a stunning exchange, D.C. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson recently explained to Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney Ian Gershengorn that the judicial branch “exists.” Jackson’s statement came in response to the DOJ’s argument that the judiciary has no jurisdiction over interbranch disputes between Congress and the president.

This interbranch controversy concerns the federal gun tracking “Fast and Furious” operation managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). As with other incidents during President Obama’s tenure, most notably the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting investigation, the executive branch resists being subject to the traditional system of checks and balances.

Instead, the Obama administration has either argued that Congress is powerless to compel the disclosure of testimony and documents or has acted in ways to wall itself from congressional oversight. In this case, the administration has, so far, been able to obstruct a congressional committee seeking answers to why the ATF failed to keep track of gun sales to Mexican drug cartels. The actions on the part of the ATF, Justice Department — and even Obama in making an executive privilege claim — are especially disturbing considering that the byproduct of the failed operation was the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Obama’s executive privilege claim forced the House to subpoena the requested documents and to eventually hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt — the first time that the nation’s top law enforcement officer has ever received such a citation. Seeking judicial relief became the final necessary option for the House, as the Senate has been unwilling to join forces to protect the institutional interest of Congress.

The administration, after so far succeeding in keeping documents that potentially could explain more about the failed “Fast and Furious” operation and the death of a federal agent, asserts that the judiciary should stay out of the controversy by arguing, in effect: “That is how it has worked for 225 years.”

Of course the administration wants to maintain the status quo in order to continue to block any significant oversight. That is understandable considering, as House attorney Kerry Kircher has noted,  “They have the documents. We don’t have the documents.”

The current dispute should be seen in light of the vital concerns of accountability, transparency, and the rule of law that could very well be impacted by whatever Judge Jackson decides. 

Accepting the administration’s arguments would constitute a huge loss for a system of government that values checks and fears the concentration of power. What the executive branch is really asking for is a way to block congressional oversight without consequence.

The recent statements by Judge Jackson, an Obama appointee, give us hope that the administration’s effort to shut out the judicial branch will not succeed. That’s a good sign. Jackson appears likely to follow fellow D.C. District Court Judge John Bates, who rejected similar arguments made by officials in the George W. Bush administration concerning the case of the firing of U.S. attorneys.

We have previously argued that a judicial showdown is a regrettable way to handle these types of interbranch disputes. However, the Obama administration has forced such a result in failing to respect the powers of Congress and fully comply with a legitimate request for documents. Because of that, we believe the only way in this circumstance to maintain the co-equal relationship between the branches of government is for Judge Jackson to side firmly with Congress and stop the executive branch’s stonewalling.

It is the responsibility of the executive branch to make a compelling case for not fully complying with the House’s subpoena requests and not Congress’s duty to justify its power to investigate. In a system of government predicated on balanced powers and accountability, the presumption must be in favor of openness.

Sollenberger is associate professor of political science at University of Michigan-Dearborn. Rozell is professor of public policy at George Mason University. They are co-authors of the book The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.

First Published June 2013 The Hill

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chairman Issa on Resignation of Lanny Breuer

Lanny Breuer/AG Holder
WASHINGTON – Today, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa released the following statement on news of the impending resignation of Justice Department’s Criminal Division head, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer: 
“Lanny Breuer’s resignation is long overdue,” Chairman Issa said. “Breuer was at the heart of several critical failures in Operation Fast and Furious:  he knew about reckless tactics, failed to take seriously allegations that they were continuing, and only owned up to his failures once they were publicly exposed.
“The Inspector General’s report admonished Breuer for failing to inform the Deputy Attorney General or the Attorney General when he learned, in April 2010, that the reckless tactic of gunwalking was used in a prior operation.  Furthermore, several of Breuer’s top deputies authorized sensitive wiretap applications under Breuer’s authority that, according to the OIG report, contained stark, incontrovertible evidence of the exact same gunwalking tactic.  Had Breuer taken any action whatsoever, Fast and Furious would have ended eight months sooner than it did. This resignation paves the way for needed new leadership in the Criminal Division.”
With Breuer’s resignation, the three highest ranking DOJ officials whom the DOJ Inspector General criticized in his September 2012 report on Operation Fast and Furious – former Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, and Breuer – have now left the Department in the wake of the report’s release.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rep. Issa Calls President’s Nomination for ATF Director a “Slap in the Face”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa

By Allan Lengel

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif) said Friday that President Barack Obama’s nomination of B. Todd Jones to permanent director of ATF is a slap in the face.
“Acting Director Jones was at the helm of ATF as many troubling problems from the fallout of Operation Fast and Furious festered,” Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement. “His specific decisions on a number of Fast and Furious related issues raise concerns about his judgment and ability to lead the agency. While I continue to believe that ATF needs to have a Senate confirmed Director, President Obama has a responsibility to find a nominee who can win confirmation and is not saddled by a string of bad decisions related to the agency’s greatest recent failure.”
“Jones was first brought into the job of ATF Acting Director in the middle of the Fast and Furious scandal after Justice Department officials had falsely denied reckless conduct and allegations by his predecessor that there was an effort underway to shield the Department’s senior political appointees from the scandal. Because of the numerous ATF mistakes during his tenure as Acting Director pertaining to Fast and Furious, his nomination is a slap in the face to the family of fallen Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, Mexican citizens whose murder has been linked to Fast and Furious weapons, and ATF whistleblowers whom he failed to support.”
Jones has been acting director since 2011.
Issa, in a press release wrote that his specific concerns included:
  •  · Failure to hold all the ATF personnel responsible for Operation Fast and Furious accountable – Nearly two years have gone by since the congressional investigation began. Still, several key individuals identified by both Congress and the Inspector General as having played prominent roles in using reckless tactics remain with the agency.

  •  Failure to support Fast and Furious whistleblowers – The Congressional investigation, the independent Department of Justice Inspector General, and an internal ATF review during Jones’ tenure exonerated the Fast and Furious whistleblowers. Yet, Jones has never commended or publicly defended these agents who brought the wrongdoing in Operation Fast and Furious to light. These whistleblowers faced retaliation from both inside and outside the Department of Justice, but Jones has steadfastly declined to recognize their heroic efforts to stop ATF gunwalking.
  •  Perceived hostility to ATF whistleblowers – In a video sent agency wide, Jones instructed ATF employees not to complain about problems outside their chain of command. ATF released the video as Fast and Furious remained prominently in the news. Agents within ATF were concerned enough to contact Congress about what they perceived to be a veiled threat and indirect criticism of Fast and Furious whistleblowers who spoke to Congress and reporters about gunwalking after complaints to ATF officials had fallen on deaf ears.
  •  Affording special treatment to ATF supervisor cited for negligence in Fast and Furious – In a particularly outrageous series of events, one of the key players in Operation Fast and Furious accepted a lucrative job at J. P. Morgan while still on ATF’s payroll. While the agency had no obligation to do so, the supervisor was given a special waiver under Jones’ tenure as Acting Director to remain employed by ATF while he simultaneously worked for J.P. Morgan. This was apparently done so that the agent could gain seniority for his government pension.
  •  · An unwillingness to engage Congress – Jones has refused to discuss his actions and problems within his agency related to Operation Fast and Furious with congressional investigators. This position stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, former Acting ATF Director Ken Melson, who proactively sought an opportunity to tell investigators his understanding of what had gone wrong in Operation Fast and Furious and with the Justice Department’s flawed response to whistleblower allegations.
  •  Failure to apply lessons ATF has learned from Fast and Furious – Jones has, to date, exhibited a general failure to articulate to Congress, ATF agents, and the public his understanding of what went wrong, who is responsible, and what ATF needs to do in the future to be successful in its mission of enforcing firearms laws. He has not offered plans for reforming or restructuring the failed supervisory framework that allowed reckless tactics to continue for over a year and contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent and numerous Mexican citizens.