Anti-gun California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s attempt to run interference for the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during Tuesday’s discussion of Operation Fast and Furious before a Senate subcommittee rings hollow in the face of new disclosures about who knew what and when, and how the DoJ feared bad publicity about “gunwalking.”
During that same hearing, before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, Sen. Charles Grassley got Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer to acknowledge during questioning that his office had gotten assurances, which later turned out to be false, that guns were not being allowed to walk, from top officials with the ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, AZ. Specifically, Breuer told Grassley:
“Well, this clearly, as far as I know, Senator Grassley at the time, Mr. Hoover, who was the deputy, was one of the people who would have been involved in that discussion, and of course I wasn’t there for it so I can only tell you my understanding…”
Grassley, who issued this statement Tuesday morning, told Breuer that “all I want is your understanding.” And Breuer then added, “…the leadership of the United States Attorney’s office in Arizona.”
While he did not name names, as Grassley wanted, that still points a finger at the office of former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who resigned abruptly more than two months ago at the same time former Acting ATF Director Ken Melson was replaced.
The “Mr. Hoover” to whom Breuer alluded is former ATF Deputy Director Billy Hoover, now Special Agent in Charge in the Washington, D.C. field office.
The issue of who offered those assurances has Grassley’s attention because of a Feb. 4, 2011 letter he received from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich that stated:
“At the outset, the allegation described in your January 27 letter that ATF ‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico – is false.”
But documents uncovered by Grassley’s investigators, transcribed by my colleague National Gun Rights Examiner Dan and Mike Vanderboegh at Sipsey Street Irregulars here, and available from Grassley’s website here, clearly show that assertion was, itself, false. And CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson is reporting that Justice Department officials knew in April 2010 that guns were being walked in an earlier operation dubbed “Wide Receiver” that began back in 2006.
UPDATE: Vanderboegh, in a follow-up on the hearing, has a transcript of the full exchange between Grassley and Breuer that is worth reading, here.
While Grassley zeroed in on who knew what and when – leaving Breuer to noticeably squirm in his chair under questioning – it was Feinstein’s comments that tried to deflect attention away from the scandal and toward her perennial gun control agenda. In an exchange that almost appeared choreographed, Feinstein and Breuer had this conversation:
FEINSTEIN: Do you believe that if there were some form of registration when you purchase these firearms that that would make a difference?
BREUER: I do, Senator. Senator, we’re talking today about trans-national organized crime and your leadership and the chairman’s…show that information is the tool we need to challenge and defeat organized crime.
Today, Senator, we are not even permitted to have ATF receive reports about multiple sales of long guns. Of any kind of semi-automatic weapon or the like, so the ATF is unable to get that. Very few hunters in the United States or sports people and law abiding people really need to have semiautomatic weapons or long guns, so today by going to a dealership and I want to buy 50 or 60 semiautomatic weapons there’s nothing that requires that to be in any way notified to ATF. Without that kind of a notification we lose track and can lose track of these kinds of potent weapons…
FEINSTEIN: My concern…is that there has been a lot said about Fast and Furious, and perhaps mistakes were made but I think this hunt for blame doesn’t really speak about the problem, and the problem is anybody can walk in and buy anything, .50 caliber weapons, sniper weapons, buy them in large amounts, and send them down to Mexico. So the question really comes ‘What do we do about this?’
I’ve been here for 18 years and I’ve watched the ATF get beaten up at every turn of the road and candidly, it’s just not right. I mean, we have more guns in this country than we have people and somebody’s got to come to the realization that when these guns go to the wrong places, scores of deaths result, and that’s exactly the case with the cartels.
A moment later, the California senator threw this softball, perhaps expecting the response she got from Breuer:
FEINSTEIN: What would be the number one tool that would be of help for you”
BREUER: I think the number one tool would be if ATF were given the ability to know when guns were purchased and frankly …one of the issues we’re asking for in connection with legislation we’re talking about today is the ability to forfeit the weapons and the inventories of gun dealers who knowingly sell their guns to criminals.
Feinstein’s attempt to change the subject and the focus toward gun control does not appear to have impressed anyone. Breuer’s assertion that “very few hunters…or sports people…really need to have semiautomatic weapons or long guns” may come as a shock to the presidents of Winchester Repeating Arms, Browning, Remington, Mossberg, Benelli, Beretta, Sturm Ruger and others, who annually sell thousands of semi-auto shotguns to hunters, competitors and sport shooters.
And there is something else. In Grassley’s release of documents Tuesday, there was an e-mail from Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division that Breuer leads. It was addressed to Breuer, and is dated April 30, 2010. It refers to Operation Wide Receiver, which also let guns walk.
As you’ll recall from Jim’s briefing, ATF let a bunch of guns walk in effort to get upstream conspirators but only got straws, and didn’t recover many guns. Some were recovered in MX after being used in crimes. Billy, Jim, Laura, Alisa and I all think the best way to announce the case without highlighting the negative part of the story and risking embarrassing ATF is as part of Deliverance.
So, as far back as April 2010, the Justice Department did not want to discuss a negative aspect of allowing guns to walk, thereby risking embarrassment to the ATF.
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