Friday, July 1, 2011

Project Gunwalker Part XV

House Panel Members Joust Over Border Gun Program

WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats on the House oversight committee this week intensified their efforts to shape the narrative surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, the border-security strategy that allowed guns to be shipped illegally into Mexico in an effort to track them to drug cartels.
Democrats, who held an unofficial hearing on Thursday on the now-defunct operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, have focused on what they see as a lapse in American laws involving firearms purchases. Republicans, led by Representative Darrell E. Issa, the chairman of the oversight committee, are pushing to blame high-ranking officials in the Obama administration for the operation.
This week Mr. Issa said he believed that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. lied when he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May that he had learned just weeks earlier about the operation, which was begun in 2009 in the Phoenix office of the A.T.F. Asked about the issue at a news conference on Wednesday, President Obama said he believed Mr. Holder.
The operation came under criticism after two guns tied to the program were found at the scene of the 2010 murder of an American Border Patrol agent, Brian A. Terry, in Arizona. Congressional committees and the Justice Department, which houses the A.T.F., are investigating.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, scheduled Thursday’s hearing after Mr. Issa blocked Democrats from questioning witnesses at a June 15 hearing about gun laws, saying the issue was outside the scope of the session.
On Thursday, Mr. Cummings, of Maryland, said the issue was relevant, contending that lax federal and Arizona laws made it harder to track and prosecute those suspected of being “straw purchasers” who buy weapons for drug cartels.
Law enforcement agents “should not have to bend over backward to imprison those who provide military-grade weapons to murderers,” he said.
Mr. Issa, a California Republican, accused the Democrats on his committee of introducing partisanship into the debate.
“This is a predictable maneuver from a minority that has sought to obstruct the investigation into Justice Department-sanctioned gun-walking,” he said Thursday in a statement. At the June 15 hearing, Mr. Issa released copies of e-mails appearing to show that the A.T.F.’s acting director, Kenneth E. Melson, had closely monitored the operation. This week the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that Mr. Melson would testify in July at a hearing on Fast and Furious.

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