Yesterday, Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson answered questions from Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Charles Grassley surrounding Operation Fast and Furious. Melson voluntarily participated in the interview and appeared with personal counsel, meaning although the Justice Department has prohibited Melson to testify before Congress on behalf of the DOJ about the scandal, he can in fact come forward with information as an individual informant outside of the DOJ and separate from DOJ interests.
In a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, Issa and Grassley expressed disappointment in the DOJ limiting and controlling Melson's communication and interaction with Congress surrounding the scandal but called the information Melson presented yesterday "extremely helpful," to the investigation.
Melson revealed the scope of Operation Fast and Furious reaches far beyond ATF and the Justice Department. He said the FBI, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and other agencies were heavily involved.
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. Mr.Melson said that he learned from ATF agents in the field that information obtained by these agencies could have had a material impact on the Fast and Furious investigation as far back as late 2009 or early 2010. After learning about the possible role of DEA and FBI, he testified that he reported this information in April 2011 to the Acting Inspector General and directly to then-Acting Deputy Attorney General James Cole on June 16, 2011.
According to the letter, the Justice Department continues to obstruct the independent House Oversight Committee Investigation:
The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities. While this is preliminary information, we must find out if there is any truth to it. According to Acting Director Melson, he became aware of this startling possibility only after the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the indictments of the straw purchasers, which we now know were substantially delayed by the u.s. Attorney's Office and Main Justice.
It is one thing to argue that the ends justify the means in an attempt to defend a policy that puts building a big case ahead of stopping known criminals from getting guns. Yet it 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. If this information is accurate, then the whole misguided operation might have been cut short if not for catastrophic failures to share key information. If agencies within the same Department, co-located at the same facilities, had simply communicated with one another, then ATF might have known that gun trafficking "higher-ups" had been already identified. This raises new and serious questions about the role of DEA, FBI, the United States Attorney's Office in Arizona, and Main Justice in coordinating this effort.
We hope that the Department will take a much more candid and forthcoming approach in addressing these very serious matters with the Committees. If other important fact witnesses like Mr. Melson have a desire to communicate directly with the Committees they should be informed that they are free to do so. They should also be notified that if they are represented by personal counsel, they may appear with personal counsel rather than with Department lawyers.
The letter also states rumors Melson that was being pressured to resign were not true and Melson said he has not been asked to resign.