Monday, November 14, 2011

Operation Fast and Furious LXXVIII

Fast and Furious: Brian Terry Will Change the Way America Does Business

by Katie Pavlich

Scottsdale, Ariz.- The Scottsdale International Auto Museum is filled with classic cars from Thunderbird convertibles to MGs with Pink Lady and T-Bird jackets hanging next to an Elvis statue near the back, but Saturday night the museum was turned into a place for people to celebrate the life of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry by supporting his family. Nearly 100 people showed their support by bidding on donated items to raise funds for his mother, Josephine Terry. The funds will be used by Josephine to attend hearings about her son’s death on Capitol Hill as the House Oversight Committee continues to dig into Operation Fast and Furious. If you aren’t familiar by now, Terry was murdered in the Arizona desert by illegal Mexican cartel bandits. Two of the guns used to kill him, were provided through the lethal Obama Justice Department Operation Fast and Furious.
The event was kicked off with the singing of the National Anthem, followed by a beautiful rendition of the famous song “Hallelujah,” which brought tears to eyes of many in the audience.
Kris Jenkins, a friend of Brian’s, drove from Sierra Vista, Ariz. to attend the event. Like many members of the Terry family and close friends that night, she was wearing a navy blue baseball style t-shirt printed with the words “Agent Terry” on the back. Terry’s family flew all the way from Michigan to attend the event.
"I'm here to support the family, support the cause," Jenkins said.
Another woman, Joan Ponath, had been in a car accident just minutes before the event started, but refused to the hospital.
"I wouldn’t have missed this for the world," Ponath said.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and former Congressman Tom Tancredo were also in attendance.
"The people of Arizona love you and will always remember Brian Terry," Brewer said. "Brian was a brave and faithful warrior."
Jay Dobyns, ATF Special Agent, American hero and best selling author of "No Angel," was the emcee of the night, and made the crowd laugh by changing outfits in between speakers, just like an awards show. Dobyns also toasted to Terry’s memory throughout the night straight from a big bottle of Jack Daniels.
"I personally feel cheated I never got to meet him," Dobyns said. "This man dedicated his entire adult life to doing America's business."
A native of Detroit, Terry was a Marine, a police officer and a special operations BORTAC agent for the U.S. Border Patrol. BORTAC is described by the Department of Homeland Security as a tactical unit that provides immediate response to emergency and high-risk incidents that require skills above average border agent training. BORTAC is similar to specialized police SWAT teams. Terry tried out for and made the BORTAC team at the age of 38, an unheard of accomplishment.
"Nothing was impossible for Brian," Lana Domino, organizer of the event and a close friend to Brian said. "He would give you the last dollar in his pocket and the shirt off his back. He loved his country as much as he loved his own family and friends."
ATF whistleblower Vince Cefalu joked about Brian, saying typical law enforcement work was "too easy for him," so he opted for working around "rattle snakes, scorpions, darkness and bad people," in the Arizona desert instead.
Although the event remained focused on supporting Josephine Terry in her efforts to find out what happened to her son and celebrating Brian's life in a positive way, there is no doubt an elephant was in the room. Bad decisions made by a long list of men responsible for the implementation of Fast and Furious within ATF and the Obama Justice Department, who have yet to be held accountable or face consequences for the lethal program, were in the back of everybody's mind. Those men are former ATF Field Supervisors for the Phoenix Field Division William Newell and David Voth, ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division George Gillett, former ATF Deputy Director of Operations in the West William McMahon, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Attorney General Eric Holder to name a few. McMahon, Voth and Newell have been promoted, despite their heavy involvement in Fast and Furious.
"In America we not only believe in truth, but in justice," Babeu said, adding that as Americans we owe it to Brian and his family to ensure at the end of the day that there is justice. "We will not relent."
ATF whistleblower Vince Cefalu didn't mince words when addressing the audience about what happened to Brian.
"He's [Terry] the guy with the badge that's all scratched up," Cefalu said. "These people who put us through this [Fast and Furious] will never have scuffed up and dirty badges."
And Cefalu is correct. The men behind Fast and Furious have made careers out of wearing suits and sitting at a desk, while field agents who have exposed Fast and Furious, have been out getting dirty and risking it all, just as Brian did. In this case, the men with the shiny badges made decisions to put American law enforcement agents in grave danger by providing Mexican drug cartels with 2,000 high powered semi-automatic weapons. Cefalu gave the men responsible for Fast and Furious a chance to go on stage, issue an apology and hold themselves accountable, but of course, people like William Newell and Lanny Breuer didn't show up.
"And that is exactly why I am here," Cefalu said.
Cefalu keeps a poem Brian wrote during BORTAC training in his wallet. He looked Josephine Terry in the eyes, pulled the poem out of his wallet and said the poem will stay in his wallet until she calls him and says she is satisfied, until then, he will carry it everywhere he goes.
If you seek to do battle with me this day, you will receive the best that I am capable of giving. It may not be enough, but it will be everything that I have to give and it will be impressive for I have constantly prepared myself for this day. I have trained, drilled and rehearsed my actions so that I might have the best chance of defeating you. I have kept myself in peak physical condition, schooled myself in the martial skills and have become proficient in the applications of combat tactics. You may defeat me, but I'm willing to die if necessary. I do not fear death for I have been close enough to it on enough occasions that it no longer concerns me. But, I do fear the loss of my honor and would rather die fighting than to have it said that I was without courage. So I will fight you, no matter how insurmountable it may seem, to the death if need be, in order that it may never be said of me that I was not a warrior." -Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry
"There is a handful of people who made tragic decisions," Dobyns said referring to Operation Fast and Furious. "I'm not going to call them mistakes, because they were tragic decisions."
Although tragic and hard to believe, Brian's death comes with a silver lining. His death, along with the bravery of ATF whistleblowers who have risked their professional careers to expose Fast and Furious, have shined a blaring light on rampant corruption at the highest levels possible within ATF and the Department of Justice. Hopefully, through continuing pressure from Congressman Darrell Issa, Senator Charles Grassley and a handful of media outlets, justice will be served.
"Brian is going to change the way America does business," Dobyns said.


Holder pushes back against GOP lawmakers over Fast and Furious

by Jordy Yager

Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to get in front of the Fast and Furious controversy that has led to calls from conservatives for his resignation.
Holder has shed the low-key persona that sought to quietly deflect a torrent of mounting congressional criticism over his role in a botched gun tracking operation. 
In its place, President Obama’s top law enforcement official has embraced a new strategy, actively confronting and rebuffing the serious concerns and disparaging remarks emanating from Capitol Hill while admitting mistakes made by his department, promising to hold officials accountable, and vehemently seeking to tell his side of the story.
For months Obama and his attorney general pointed to the ongoing inspector general (IG) investigation that Holder requested, saying that the unfolding information about Operation Fast and Furious was troubling, but keeping their comments to a minimum after top-ranking Republicans launched a congressional investigation into the quagmire at the beginning of the year. 

But amid dozens of calls for his resignation and a series of heated comments —one Republican implied that he’s an accessory to murder — Holder has stepped up his approach. 
“I'd like to correct some of the inaccurate, and frankly, irresponsible accusations surrounding Fast and Furious,” Holder announced at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week. 
The hearing was Holder’s first before the committee since internal DOJ memos raised questions about whether he misled the House Judiciary Committee in May when he testified that he had first learned about Fast and Furious “over the last few weeks.”
The memos launched a spate of Republican calls for his resignation as lawmakers debated whether Holder lied to Congress under oath and questioned whether he was fit to hold office.
At Tuesday’s hearing Holder immediately clarified his remarks from his House testimony in May, saying that he first learned about Fast and Furious and its gun-walking tactics after news reports emerged based on the concerns of whistleblowers. He said he immediately asked for an IG investigation.
“In my testimony before the House committee, I did say ‘a few weeks,’” said Holder. “I probably could have said ‘a couple of months.’ I don’t think that what I said in terms of using the term ‘a few weeks’ was inaccurate, based on what happened.”
In a push to get out ahead of the news coverage that would follow the Senate hearing, DOJ officials released excerpts of Holder’s testimony the night before. In his remarks Holder admitted that Fast and Furious “was flawed in concept, as well as in execution…and it must never happen again.”
Holder’s remorseful sentiment, combined with his promise — under oath — that he would hold accountable those involved in Fast and Furious’ poor decision making once the IG investigation is completed, dominated much of the news coverage. 
One sticking point emerged when Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) pressed Holder on a letter that assistant attorney general for legislative affairs Ronald Weich had written earlier that year, telling Grassley that the ATF made every effort to intercept guns traveling to Mexico. 
Holder directly sought to assuage Grassley’s concern, telling him that he regrets that the DOJ officials who wrote that letter to Grassley used inaccurate information. But the attorney general stressed that officials believed the information to be true at the time, saying they did not intentionally mislead Congress.
Under Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF oversaw the sale of thousands of guns to known and suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels. Many of those firearms are believed to be in Mexico. Two of the guns were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Brian Terry last December. 
Republicans were left unsatisfied with Holder’s testimony, however. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, immediately fired off a letter to Weich questioning whether he lied to Congress in his letter to Grassley.  
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Fox that Holder failed to “acquit himself” and criticized the attorney general for not holding anyone accountable. 
Tuesday’s Senate hearing was the first instance of Holder publicly promising to hold officials responsible. But in August Holder quietly reassigned the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Kenneth Melson and his deputy William Hoover, who oversaw the Arizona-based group in charge of Fast and Furious. 

Holder offered no public statements at the time linking their reassignment to the roles they played in the operation. 
Shortly after the internal shifts, Republicans stepped up the heat on Holder, with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee asking Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Holder’s role in Fast and Furious. 
The growing chorus spurred Holder’s shift from passive to proactive, which was evidenced by his testimony this week. Last month he blasted the heightening attacks on himself and the DOJ in a letter to the chairman and ranking members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. 
“The public discourse concerning these issues has become so base and so harmful to interests that I hope we all share that I must now address these issues notwithstanding the Inspector General’s ongoing review,” wrote Holder.  
“I cannot sit idly by as a majority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered ‘accessories to murder.’ Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms.”
Holder is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee next month and will face a barrage of questions from Issa and other Republicans closely tracking the issue. But with only one Democrat from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sitting on the panel, the attorney general will largely have to fend for himself – a role he has embraced with vigor.

‘Furious’ excuse-making

by Michael A. Walsh
By now it’s clear that the Obama administration’s “solution” to the long-simmering Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal is as easy as one, two, three. One, scapegoating. Two, stonewalling. Three, blaming Bush.
F&F, of course, was a crackpot scheme hatched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive by which thousands of firearms were allowed to “walk” across the US-Mexican border and into the hands of the deadly Mexican drug cartels, with the weapons’ purchase and transfer aided by ATF agents under the supervision of the Justice Department. All ostensibly to help trace the putative US sources of cartel armaments.

In its wake, the now-axed program has left hundreds of Mexicans and at least two American agents dead. It’s also destroyed the reputations of the main players in its chain of command, including former ATF head Ken Melson, former US attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke and Attorney General Eric Holder -- whose evasive and unconvincing testimony before Congress has led no fewer than 38 members to call for his resignation.
Oh yes: The Mexican government’s also furious that it was never alerted to the presence of the operation on its sovereign territroy.
Let’s go to the videotape:
Scapegoating. Burke, who was cashiered from his post in August, admitted this week that he leaked an internal memo written by ATF whistle-blower John Dodson, whose June testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform was instrumental in bringing the scandal to light.
Dodson had testified that “we, ATF, failed to fulfill one of our most fundamental obligations . . . to keep guns out of the hands of criminals . . . I have never heard an explanation from anyone involved in Operation Fast and Furious that I believe would justify what we did.” The leak was apparently made to cast doubt on his outrage.
Other scapegoats include Melson, who after his private testimony to a congressional committee was quickly transferred to an imaginary job (“advisor on forensic science”) in Justice’s Office of Legal Policy, and Burke himself, whose “resignation” at least temporarily ended speculation that the Democratic golden boy would run for higher office in Arizona.
Stonewalling. Few public officials have been less forthcoming than Holder, whose constantly shifting excuses for F&F all boil down to: the dog ate my homework.
Holder at first denied knowing much of anything, then said he’d only learned of the operation (which ran 2009-2010) at the start of this year, when in fact he’d been briefed much earlier -- and then said he didn’t read the briefing memos because, hey, he’s a busy guy.
Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa became so frustrated with Holder’s slow-walking of requested Justice documents that last month he issued subpoenas for reams of them, as well as for the AG to testify for the third time before Congress, which he did Tuesday.
“I want to be clear: Any instance of so-called ‘gun walking’ is unacceptable,” said Holder piously before blasting critics for playing “gotcha” games. He also said he knew nothing about Dodson’s smear, and dodged questions about it.
Worst of all, he refused to apologize for the death of a Border Patrol agent killed by a Fast and Furious weapon.
Blame Bush. The latest defense is that Fast and Furious grew out of a superficially similar Bush-era operation, Operation Wide Receiver, which also sought to trace illegal firearms in Mexico.
Yet the differences are crucial: The Bush op was tightly controlled, with the illegal purchases conducted under tight surveillance, and was a joint Mexican-American endeavor. Plus, it involved only about 500 guns, some fitted with radio tracking devices.
F&F, by contrast, involved thousands of guns, whose purchases were actively encouraged by federal officials and whose transfers across the border went deliberately unmolested. And it was kept secret from our Mexican allies.
Finally, there’s a push to change the subject: Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted at this week’s hearings that “I think this hunt for blame doesn’t really speak about the problem. And the problem is . . . we have very lax laws when it comes to guns.”
Not true, of course -- and, anyway, we don’t need stricter gun laws, we need to get the bottom of this scandal.

Grassley: Justice Dept. balking at making witnesses available

by Jerry Seper
The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee says the Justice Department has refused to make available 11 of 12 department witnesses called by the panel for transcribed interviews in the ongoing investigation of the botched Fast and Furious weapons operation.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said that despite the department's promises of good-faith cooperation in the probe, only one witness has been provided so far — former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Arizona, who resigned in August two weeks after he ended his testimony about Fast and Furious before a House committee, during which he took responsibility for mistakes.
"The department has refused to schedule interviews with any of the other 11 witnesses. That's not the good-faith cooperation I was promised, and it is unacceptable," Mr. Grassley said. "If this controversy has taught us anything, it is that you have to talk directly to the people who know the facts.
"If Congress had relied on the department's official talking points, we still wouldn't know the truth today," he said Thursday during the committee's executive business meeting.
Mr. Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have been investigating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) Fast and Furious operation for several months.
They discovered that more than 2,000 weapons illegally purchased by "straw buyers" at gun shops in Phoenix, including hundreds of AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles, were allowed to be "walked" to drug smugglers in Mexico.
More than 1,400 of the weapons are believed still to be unaccounted for. Two AK-47s purchased at a gun shop in Glendale, Ariz., also were discovered at the site of the shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, killed during a gunfight with Mexican bandits just north of the border near Nogales, Ariz.
Mr. Grassley also noted that during a Justice Department oversight hearing on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "shifted slightly" from an earlier denial in May that "gunwalking" had occurred during the Fast and Furious operation to "a wait-and-see position," noting that he didn't know if guns had been walked and would wait for the results of an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.
"We have come a long way since May," Mr. Grassley said. "On Tuesday, the attorney general finally admitted that the whistle-blowers were right all along about gunwalking in Fast and Furious. While I am pleased that the attorney general is no longer trying to deny the obvious, he did not fully own up to his responsibility."
Mr. Grassley noted that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department's Criminal Division, admitted last week that he had known about the ATF walking guns since April 2010. Mr. Grassley said Mr. Breuer said he regretted not telling the attorney general about it earlier.
He said Mr. Breuer also admitted that he knew the Justice Department's blanket assertion that ATF does not walk guns was false, having to acknowledge the validity of documents showing that he had been briefed about guns walking in an earlier operation called Wide Receiver.
Mr. Grassley said it also appears from those documents that Mr. Breuer's deputy, Jason Weinstein, knew about ATF's walking guns in both operations.
"Anyone who knew about gunwalking in any case also knew that the department's initial letter to me was false," he said. "The attorney general said the letter was based on the best information available at the time, but senior officials at headquarters, like Breuer and Weinstein, knew better."
Mr. Grassley said Mr. Weinstein briefed committee staff on Feb. 10 but failed to disclose what he knew about ATF's walking guns.
Mr. Issa this week also asked Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, to explain who prepared or helped prepare a Feb. 4 letter he sent to Mr. Grassley denying that guns had been walked into Mexico as part of Fast and Furious.
He said the congressional investigation of the operation has shown that the statement was untrue and that senior Justice Department officials knew at the time Mr. Weich made the denial that it was untrue.

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