A recent government audit and sanction by the Arizona State Bar may have helped push Operation Fast and Furious back into the news, but is hardly shedding more light on the matter, members of Congress said.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) talks to reporters with Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)
“We are still waiting for the litigation, which is at an impasse, but these developments bring it back into the headlines,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) told TheBlaze. “Folks still want answers to the same question and want to know why we have not gotten to the bottom of this.”
Farenthold is a member of the House Overight and Government Reform Committee, which has taken the lead in probing the botched gun-tracking program.
On Friday, one lead figure in the botched operation, former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Arizona, received a formal reprimand and was fined $1,200 by the Arizona State Bar.
Meanwhile, late last month, the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General asserted another key figure in the operation, William McMahon was allowed to work an extra full-time job while on government paid sick leave. McMahon is a former deputy assistant director for field operations with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Operation Fast and Furious allowed 2,000 guns to flow to Mexican drug trafficking organizations for the purpose of tracking them, but the federal government lost track of many of the guns. The operation was halted in December 2010 when a gun from the operation was found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Since that time, Congress has investigated the matter, and is still pressing the Justice Department to release documents. In a bipartisan vote in 2012, 17 Democrats joined House Republicans to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. President Barack Obama even invoked executive privielege in the course of the investigation.
“There is a lot more that is going to come out. The Holder contempt case in D.C. District Court continues,” Farenthold told TheBlaze. “This is typical of the Obama administration, whether it's in the Oversight or Judiciary committees. Their strategy is to stonewall and delay.”
“Executive privilege was the nuclear option,” Farenthold added. “You can't claim executive privelege if the president didn't know or or closest inner circle didn't know.”
ATF Director B. Todd Jones will testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the agency's controversial storefront investigation. Farenthold said it's almost certain that Jones will face questions on Operation Fast and Furious, which occurred before Jones was in office.
On Monday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee whose office first heard from ATF whistleblowers, sent a letter to Jones inquiring why more officials were not held accountable in the matter.
“While several ATF officials chose to retire or leave ATF in the wake of Fast and Furious rather than face discipline, it is our understanding that ATF continues to employ three key players from Fast and Furious: Case Agent Hope MacAllister, Group Supervisor David Voth, and Special Agent in Charge William Newell,” Issa and Grassley wrote.
“It is inexcusable that, 19 months after these findings became public, ATF has provided Congress with no information about whether, or to what extent, these employees have been held accountable. The repeated faulty judgment of MacAllister, Voth, and Newell severely jeopardized public safety during Fast and Furious, and ATF’s failure to account for what disciplinary action, if any, has been taken is an affront to the family of Brian Terry.”
The letter continued referring to McMahon and the inspector general report.
“Although you suggested during your confirmation process that McMahon had been terminated prior to reaching his early retirement date, it is far from clear that any personnel action in his case had anything to do with his involvement in Fast and Furious,” the letter stated.
“As a result of our letter to you, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General initiated an investigation and recently found that McMahon took approximately one month of sick leave at the same time ATF approved his outside employment at J.P. Morgan,” the letter said. “ATF approved both the sick leave and the outside employment, despite the obvious conflict between the two, suggesting that the sick leave may have been fraudulent. However, the narrative in the OIG report stopped short of describing any personnel action that may have been taken or explaining the basis for any such action.”
Burke leaked documents to news organization about a Fast and Furious whistleblower. While he claimed he was trying to be transparent, Issa said it promoted a “misleading narrative.” In a report in 2012 of Operation Fast and Furious, the Justice Department inspector general said, “Although Burke denied to congressional investigators that he had any retaliatory motive for his actions, we found substantial evidence to the contrary.”
Burke previously served as the chief of staff for former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano before Obama nominated him as U.S. attorney. Burke contributed $2,000 to Obama's campaign and contributed more than $16,000 to Democrats since 1997.