For more than two years, the Justice Department has ignored Congressional requests to disclose where all of the Fast and Furious weapons are turning up. Now, documents withheld from Congress, but provided to me by a source, give a predictably disturbing picture of the violent landscape in which the weapons are being used.
Uriel Patino is a chief firearms trafficking suspect whom ATF secretly advised U.S. gun shops to sell weapons to. According to trace documents, guns that Patino trafficked are associated with 128 firearms traces to date, including 15 cases in 2014. A trace indicates a firearm likely turned up at a crime scene.
Among the Patino traces in 2014 are 11 incidents in Mexico and four in the U.S.
“These weapons that have been recovered recently in 2014 haven’t even been reported to Congress,” says an official source familiar with the ongoing investigation into the government’s conduct. “It’s a life and death situation. People are using these weapons at shootouts, gang-related activity and cartel activity.”
Suspects who were under the watch of federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) sold thousands of AK-47 style assault rifles and other weapons to Mexican drug cartels in the ill-advised Justice Department operation in 2009 and 2010. One major outstanding question is: In what crimes are the weapons now being used to injure and kill?
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have a standing request with the Justice Department to provide the information, but their three letters on the topic have gone unanswered.
In a separate revelation today, Grassley and Issa confirmed that an AK-47 rifle used in a July 29, 2013, gang-style assault that wounded two people in Phoenix was a Fast and Furious weapon. The conservative watchdog Judicial Watch originally obtained the documents showing the connection through a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the city of Phoenix. The rifle was one of 40 weapons purchased by Fast and Furious suspect Sean Steward while he was under ATF surveillance. ATF let the guns “walk,” allowing Steward to traffic them to Mexico.
Trace documents also provided to me by a source, but withheld from Congress by the Justice Department, show that Steward’s weapons are associated with 54 traces, including six cases in Mexico so far in 2014.
In a letter to the Justice Department today, Grassley and Issa stated, “over a full year has passed” since the Phoenix gun recovery, [quote]“and the [Justice] Department has failed to notify the [Congressional] Committees. The refusal to respond to our standing requests for this information effectively hides the connection between crimes like this and Operation Fast and Furious…The lack of transparency about the consequences of Fast and Furious undermines the public confidence in law enforcement and give the impression the Department is still seeking to suppress information and limit its exposure to public scrutiny.”[/quote]
During a six-month period, Steward paid $176,000 in cash to buy 289 firearms including 260 AK-47 style firearms, 20 nine millimeter pistols, a .50 caliber rifle and other “weapons of choice” of the Mexican drug cartels, says the letter.
Judicial Watch sued the city of Phoenix after it ignored a public records request for information about the July 2013 crime and guns.
In November 2012, a Fast and Furious weapon was found at a shootout between a Mexican drug cartel and soldiers where a beauty queen was killed. Two weapons used in the murder of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico on Feb. 15, 2011 also came from suspects who were under ATF watch but not arrested at the time. And two Fast and Furious AK-47 type rifles were recovered from the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010; he’d been shot by illegal immigrants who were smuggling drugs.
ATF special agent John Dodson blew the whistle on his agency’s gunwalking in an interview with CBS News in 2011.
On June 28, 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over Fast and Furious documents. It was the first time an Attorney General was held in contempt. President Obama then exerted executive privilege for the first and only time of his administration to keep the documents secret.
Judicial Watch sued the Justice Department over the withheld documents and a federal judge has ruled that the government must turn over some information by October 22.
Shortly after that ruling, Attorney General Holder announced plans to retire but did not provide a reason for the timing of his announcement.