At a May 3 House Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Holder, under questioning by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), testified
that he had “probably” only learned about Operation Fast and Furious in “the last few weeks.”
He had similarly deflected questions from CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson in March
. In a letter, the Justice Department said the agency has never knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to suspected gunrunners.
However, Holder described in detail
how Project Gunrunner would operate when he spoke to an anti-arms smuggling symposium April 2, 2009 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Last week, our administration launched a major new effort to break the backs of the cartels. My department is committing 100 new ATF personnel to the Southwest border in the next 100 days to supplement our ongoing Project Gunrunner, DEA is adding 16 new positions on the border, as well as mobile enforcement teams, and the FBI is creating a new intelligence group focusing on kidnapping and extortion. DHS is making similar commitments, as Secretary Napolitano will detail.
What's more, in a Department of Justice paper
, the ATF explained in September, 2010 the Obama administration's justification for Gunrunner and its Phoenix offshoot, "Fast and Furious."
In response to the increased trafficking of firearms from the United States to Mexico, ATF developed Project Gunrunner, a firearms trafficking and firearms-related border violence strategy designed to deny drug trafficking organizations access to U.S. firearms.
[O]ver the past few months enforcement strategies (and other guidance) that address firearms trafficking to Mexican cartels have been developed and released by the White House and the Department of Justice. It is essential that ATF efforts support strategies promoted by the White House and Department of Justice. An examination of these and other strategies reveals similarities among the strategies, but also suggests that some revisions to ATF’s current strategy are necessary.
Nevertheless, President Obama in March told the Spanish language broadcaster
, Univision, that his administration had nothing to do with distributing arms to the Mexican cartels.
"I did not authorize it; Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it. He's been very clear that our policy is to catch gun-runners and put them into jail," Obama said.
Obama said that he would hold someone responsible if, indeed, a mistake was made.
"We have to make sure that we're enforcing the kinds of measures that will stop the flow of guns and cash down south that is helping to fuel these transnational drug cartels," he said.
"There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made," he said. "If that's the case, then we'll find out and we''ll hold someone accountable."
The Gunrunner program was a significant part of the "stimulus" funding package that Obama pushed through Congress earli in his administration. Out of a total $40 million inspecial appropriations for law enforcement, one-quarter of it was for the Gunrunner projrct.
Obama signed the measure almost immediately after its passage
The relevant text of H.R.1 provides:
For an additional amount for ‘State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance’, $40,000,000, for competitive grants to provide assistance and equipment to local law enforcement along the Southern border and in High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to combat criminal narcotics activity stemming from the Southern border, of which $10,000,000 shall be transferred to ‘Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Salaries and Expenses’ for the ATF Project Gunrunner.
Other media sources
report that this represented only part of the total funding, and that more was requested for 2011.
Despite warnings from the DOJ inspector general that tracking and assessment measures needed improvement, the payroll exploded from a few dozen to more than 200 by 2009. Under the Obama administration, ATF reaped another $21.9 million to expand Project Gunrunner (nearly half from the stimulus boondoggle), and the White House has requested almost $12 million more in fiscal year 2011 appropriations for the program.
The Phoenix, Arizona portion of the Gunrunner program began in 2009, and allowed smugglers to purchase weapons at legitimate gun dealers, often under law enforcement surveillance,and then allowed the smugglers to deliver them to Mexican drug cartels. ATF agents were ordered not to stop the purchases, intercept the smugglers, or to retrieve the weapons.
On Dec. 14, 2010, two rifles sold to one of the smugglers turned up at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The FBI then traced the rifles back to Operation Fast and Furious.
Issa and Grassley have advised Holder
that they will continue their investigation into the Justice Department's involvement and that of its personnel.
t is a much more serious matter to conceal from Congress the possible involvement of other agencies in identifying and maybe even working with the same criminals that Operation Fast and Furious was trying to identify.