Following yesterday’s posting about the latest news from Senator Grassley in his investigation of the ATF’s Fast and Furious scandal, this morning we have news from Grassley’s partner in the probe, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-NY), revealing that the acting director of the ATF, Kenneth Melson, provided an interview with the Congressional investigation of the case days before he was scheduled to deal with the Inspector General of the ATF’s boss, the Department of Justice. Melson has been under fire from all sides in this probe, and I expect that he is undoubtedly feeling that he is likely to be the sacrifice offered up by DoJ as a cover for how DoJ has botched the operation and subsequent probe, particularly after airing his complaints to the Deputy Attorney General. I say DoJ because it had overview of the operation, even more so now that we know that the FBI and DEA were involved as well. DoJ is also now implicated in trying to obstruct the investigation:
"If his account is accurate, then ATF leadership appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand," Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder. "That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation."
The Justice Department is reportedly looking to oust Melson, who has been acting ATF director since April 2009, as the agency deals with its biggest scandal in nearly two decades. Andrew Traver, who was tapped in November by President Obama to become the permanent ATF director, could be named as acting director until the Senate acts on his nomination, sources have said.
Traver, of Chicago, has had his nomination of last November languishing in committee due to the fact that “the National Rifle Association has stalled his appointment, citing his anti-gun rights stance.”
Issa and Grassley wrote that Melson’s interview “was extremely helpful to our investigation.” They said Melson told them he did not review the “hundreds of documents” the DOJ is withholding until after the public controversy about the operation. Issa and Grassley said Melson claims he was “sick to his stomach” when he obtained the documents and learned the full story.
The DOJ has not been fully cooperative with a number of Issa’s and Grassley’s requests for documents and other evidence in this investigation. According to the July 5 letter, Issa and Grassley said Melson told them he asked the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) to be more cooperative with Congressional requests for information, evidence and documents.
The heart of today's controversy goes to this:
Mr. Melson said that he told the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) at the end of March that the Department needed to reexamine how it was responding to the requests for information from Congress.
According to Mr. Melson, he and ATF’s senior leadership team moved to reassign every manager involved in Fast and Furious, from the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations down to the Group Supervisor, after learning the facts in those documents. Mr. Melson also said he was not allowed to communicate to Congress the reasons for the reassignments. He claimed that ATF’s senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process. However, he said that Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress. The result is that Congress only got the parts of the story that the Department wanted us to hear. [emphasis mine]
You may recall that a key component of the 2004 9/11 investigation in Congress was the conclusion that a "wall of separation" between the CIA and the FBI existed prior to the attack, and this contributed in a substantive way to preventing a coordination that could have aided in foiling the events of that day. This 'wall' was not a reflection of the agencies' attitudes, but was an active programme erected by Jamie Gorelick, who had been the Deputy Attorney General (that's at DoJ, lest you miss the connection) under Clinton. The administration of the time, and Ms Gorelick in particular, were concerned that an active cross-pollination of information about potential terrorists may "undermine the civil liberties of terrorism suspects". Damage control from this damning revelation was aided by the fact that the bi-partisan commission included Gorelick as a member.Specifically, we have very real indications from several sources that some of the gun trafficking “higher-ups” that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants. The Acting Director said that ATF was kept in the dark about certain activities of other agencies, including DEA and FBI.
At this point, it it becoming increasingly difficult to stonewall the investigation, but then stone walls are involved in building strong bunkers, aren't they?
Update: The letter to Eric Holder from Issa & Grassley, detailing today's revelations, is now available.
(H/T to Powerline and Instapundit)