June 21st, 2012
09:03 PM ET

Fast and Furious investigation started with agent's death

[Updated on September 19, 2012] Wednesday's Justice Department inspector general report criticizing 14 ATF and Justice Department employees relates to a months-long investigation into a controversial gun sting that allowed hundreds of weapons to reach violent Mexican drug cartels.

The controversial Operation Fast and Furious, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began in 2009, came to the public's attention after guns linked to the program were found at the site where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed.

Brian A. Terry was fatally shot in the Arizona desert, just north of the Mexico border, on December 14, 2010, after he confronted a group of bandits believed to be preying on illegal immigrants. Nearly three months later, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, announced that two weapons found near the scene were traced to an ATF gun-running operation, later identified as Fast and Furious.

Fast and Furious was intended to build cases against Mexican drug cartels and the smuggling networks supplying them by allowing illegally purchased firearms to go from the United States into Mexico. In the operation, "straw buyers" - people who buy the weapons for others who might not legally be allowed to buy them - were allowed to purchase in Arizona illegally large numbers of weapons, some of which ended up in the hands of cartels in Mexico.

The idea was that once the weapons in Mexico were traced to the straw purchasers, the smuggling network could be brought down. But the ATF lost track of more than 1,000 firearms, and some guns weren't recovered until they turned up at crime scenes, both in Mexico and, as the Terry case illustrated, the United States.

Once the operation was in the public spotlight, Mexican officials and critics in the United States called the operation a failure, saying it exacerbated the longstanding problem of U.S. weapons getting into the hands of Mexican cartels.

Criticism was heaped on the ATF and its parent agency, the Department of Justice. Congressional committees began investigating last year, and Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over who knew what about the operation, and when.

The House Oversight Committee has sought documents that would show why the Justice Department decided to withdraw as inaccurate a February 2011 letter sent to Congress that said top officials had only recently learned about Fast and Furious.

The Justice Department has turned over thousands of documents during the investigation. However, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to turn over materials containing internal deliberations. In June, the Republican-led House voted to hold the attorney general in contempt.

Here is a timeline of some of the events in the Fast and Furious investigation:

December 14, 2010: Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry is killed in the Arizona desert. Two guns found at the site are later linked to the ATF Fast and Furious program.

January 2011: Congress begins asking questions about the ATF program.

February 4, 2011: Responding to an inquiry from Sen. Charles Grassley, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich writes that top officials had only recently learned about the ATF gun-running program, but that nothing improper was done in the operation. Weich also asserts that any allegation that the ATF knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico is false. "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico," Weich wrote.

March 3, 2011: An ATF whistleblower tells  "CBS Evening News" that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to go into Mexico. Just minutes before the broadcast, ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson issues a statement saying the agency is forming a panel to "review the bureau's current firearms trafficking strategies employed by field division managers and special agents."

March 4, 2011: CNN reports that Grassley wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder complaining that the ATF was "stonewalling" his investigation into the matter. CNN also reports that, according to Grassley, ATF agents told his staff "the agency allowed the sale of assault rifles to known and suspected straw purchasers for an illegal trafficking ring near the southwest border."

May 2011: Holder tells the House Judiciary Committee that he "probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."

June 15, 2011: Rep. Darrell Issa alleges Weich's claim that the ATF never knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers, who then transported them into Mexico, is deceiving. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and other congressmen allege that although it is technically true that straw purchasers didn't cross any weapons into Mexico, they did transfer them to third parties who did.

Also, ATF whistle-blowers testify before Issa's committee. Peter Forcelli, a supervisor at the ATF Phoenix field office, says Fast and Furious was "a colossal failure of leadership." An agent, Lee Casa, tells the committee that ATF supervisors brushed off several agents' concerns over letting guns go. Another agent, John Dodson, tells lawmakers: "I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest."

August 30, 2011: Melson, the ATF's acting director, is reassigned to a position in the Justice Department. Also, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, resigns. Burke's office had given legal guidance to the ATF relating to Fast and Furious.

September 7, 2011: Holder says in a news conference that Fast and Furious "was clearly a flawed enforcement effort," and adds that investigations will find involvement did not reach "the upper levels" of the Justice Department.

October 12, 2011: Congressional investigators issue a subpoena for communications from several top Justice Department officials, including Holder, relating to Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, Republicans say that previously released documents show that Holder knew about Fast and Furious much earlier than he indicated to the House Judiciary Committee in May. Holder and his aides deny the allegation.

November 1, 2011: Lanny Breuer, an assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, tells a Senate judiciary subcommittee that he first learned of the tactic of allowing illegally purchased guns to leave shops in April 2010. That tactic, he said, was executed during a 2006-2007 ATF program, called Operation Wide Receiver, which happened during the George W. Bush administration.

Breuer says he should have warned Holder and other Justice officials about the 2006-2007 tactics, but failed to do so. He said he also failed to recognize that the same tactics used in 2006-2007 were being used again in Fast and Furious.

November 8, 2011: Holder tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the tactic allowing illegal guns to be smuggled into Mexico "should never have happened, and it must never happen again."

December 2, 2011: The Justice Department withdraws its February 4 letter to Grassley, saying the letter contains inaccuracies.

Also, ahead of a December 8 House Judiciary Committee hearing at which Holder is to testify, 1,400 pages demanded by investigators are released. The documents show, among other things, that Justice officials struggled for days over how to write the February letter to Grassley.

December 7, 2011: Grassley calls on Breuer to resign, saying he misled Congress by saying he didn't know in February that the assertions in the February 4 letter were wrong. Grassley says documents show that Breuer should have been aware that the letter contained false assertions, due to his knowledge of the 2006-2007 Operation Wide Receiver.

December 8, 2011: Holder tells the House Judiciary Committee that he won't resign over the Fast and Furious controversy, and that he doesn't think any of his top aides should step down. He says the operation relied on "unacceptable tactics" and was "inexcusable," but he says that Justice Department officials have cooperated with investigators, and that any previous misleading information was not part of an intentional deception.

January 31, 2012: Democrats on the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee issue a report saying the panel has found no evidence showing that top Justice officials "conceived or directed" Fast and Furious. The report from the Democrats, who are a minority on the Republican-led panel, places blame for the program on federal agents and prosecutors in Arizona.

February 1, 2012: Terry's parents, Josephine and Kent Terry Sr., file a $25 million wrongful death claim in an Arizona court against the federal government.

February 2, 2012: Holder tells the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that firings of Justice officials who oversaw Fast and Furious are likely to come in the next six months.

Meanwhile, Issa threatens to begin a contempt proceeding against Holder unless he releases more documents.

May 18, 2012: Issa and other House GOP lawmakers send Holder demanding that he release the full amount of materials that Issa's committee asked for previously.  Although the letter acknowledges that there's been some cooperation on the investigation, it emphasizes that House Republicans still want answers in two key areas - who in top positions knew about the operation before the murder of a federal border agent exposed its existence, and did anyone on Holder's team misinform Congress when they responded in part to the Oversight committee's subpoena.

June 19, 2012: A showdown meeting between Holder and Issa fails to resolve their dispute over documents. Issa says that unless at least some of the documents are handed over before the committee meets June 20, it would vote on a measure that would send a contempt vote to the full House.

June 20, 2012: President Barack Obama asserts executive privilege over some of the documents sought by Issa's panel. The White House move means the Department of Justice can withhold some of the documents.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee votes 23-17 (with all of the panel's Republicans voting yes, and all of the panel's Democrats voting no) to recommend that the full House vote on whether to cite Holder for contempt of Congress. The vote by the full House could happen on the week of June 25.

June 28, 2012: The House votes to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, but he does not face criminal prosecution. House Republicans are joined by 17 Democrats in citing Holder, while dozens of Democrats walk out in protest.

The House also cites Holder for civil contempt to give it the option of filing a lawsuit compelling Holder to turn over documents sought by Oversight Committee investigators.  Issa concedes that investigators lack any evidence that Holder knew of the failed weapons-tracking tactics of Fast and Furious.

July 9, 2012: Federal authorities unseal an indictment charging five men in Terry's death.

The indictment charges Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, carrying and using a firearm during a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. A sixth defendant, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, is charged solely with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.

Up to $1 million is offered for information leading to the arrest of four men still at large.

September 19, 2012: The U.S. Justice Department's inspector general issues a report finding 14 ATF and DoJ employees responsible for management failures in the Fast and Furious operation. The report refers the 14 for possible disciplinary action, but did not recommend criminal sanctions.

The report also finds that Holder was not informed of the operation until 2011, after Terry's December 2010 death.

Also, Holder announces that Melson, the acting ATF director, has retired, and that former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein has resigned.

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Filed under: Politics
soundoff (248 Responses)
  1. GP007

    A little research shows that The Fast and The Furious was a specific operation begun in 2009, under the larger Project Gunrunner program, started in 2005. Wide Receiver was another operation that was run under the Project Gunrunner.

    Project Gunrunner was a terrible idea, and someone needs to take the blame for the lack of results. But it is obvious that the republicans have turned this into a political circus because they think they can score points on it.

    Holder has attended nine different congressional hearings on the matter and provided extraordinary congressional access to justice department records.

    The republicans will stop at nothing to get back into power. And based on what they did the last time that had absolute power I don't know that this country could survive it.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • disgustedvet

      Hogwash.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      A goverment agent was killed following a obviously stupid plan to allow sale of guns to cartel agents and now no one can remember who gave the ok for the plan that involved DEA, ATF and the FBI. That all the agencies were involved means someonevery high up in the DOJ had to approve an operation involving all 3 agencies. Holder has been caught lying and is still lying about who approved the operation.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Nice try, but it won't sell.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • 20NavyYears

      @GP007 can you explain how, in relation to the current state of Fast and Furious, that Gun Runner was a "terrible idea" as an operation? Granted, I have done my homework too and I agree there is probably a valid challenge to some of the claims from federal agency reporting. But you cannot deny that Gun Runner and Wide Receiver netted results (arrests and convictions totalling over 1,000) without loss of life...at least on the U.S. side. And another aspect of those Ops is they included the host nation Mexico. Whereas F&F netted no arrests that I can determine much less convictions and excluded the Mexican Government.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melvin Painter

      It seems you and your kenyan clown will stop at nothing to destroy this country. It wasn't until America's first black racist, race-baiting dictator took over that the guns ended getting tracked and brought in. His pathetic hope was that people would be outraged at GUNS, he didn't count on that his plan killing innocent people by the bad guys. CNN and all the other news media have covered up this story in hopes you would not hear anything. But the parents of the slain Border Patrol Agent are saying something, and they are calling out the most corrupt administration in America's history. You keep voting based on skin color, and our country will end up in the toilet.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lonewolf

      GP007 you said it correctly. Of course the GOP does not want to hear that. They are too busy trying to destroy our country in their attempt to get back the White House. No matter what information Holder provides them, they will not be satisfied. This is just pure politics by the GOP at it's worst. Unfortunately, nothing new when it comes to the GOP. Most Americans understand what is going on and are not fooled by the antics of the GOP. The GOP is good at attempting to rewrite history.

      June 22, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • WDinDallas

      you forgot to blame Bush!

      Gunrunner and Fast and Furious are two different operations!

      June 22, 2012 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • oduck2112

      GP007 says they "provided extraordinary congressional access to justice department records". That's simply not true. Most of the records that were turned over were severely redacted to the point to be useless.

      To believe Holder has fully cooperated in the investigation is as ludicrous as believing that CO2 is a pollutant.

      June 22, 2012 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
    • had2in nj

      for those who have said Bush started Fast and Furious .. His watched started wide receiver... Obama watched stated F&F.. they are simulator but the big difference ..with Bush it was a joint effort between the the US and Mexico..and both countries were on the same page and acted swiftly to arrest the drug cartel.... In F&F the Obama watched did it on their own without the Mexican governments knowledge. That's criminal and those involved should be held accountable...

      June 22, 2012 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • dondijon

      Agents whom wanted to follow these weapons were told to stand down by thier superiors, what assurence do we have that this was a murder perpetrated by a cartel member... It reeks of a False Flag Operation... That is the only possible reasoning for not monitoring the distribution of Exotic Arms!!! It is obvious that Mr. Obama is in the middle of this, Executive privilege does not extend to a DOJ Official as he is part of the Judicial Branch of Government, [N]ot the executive... Liberals seen to have a problem with the break down of the Branches of Government The are Legislative / Judicial/ and Executive!!!

      June 25, 2012 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. disgustedvet

    Eric Holder is a gutless coward hiding behind a spineless liar who is hiding behind a Bush. One and Done . Jimmy Carter thanks you Mr. President for removing that yoke from his neck .

    June 21, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. HIDE BEHIND

    No one dare say, destabilization of Mexico has a lot of economic value, political. corruption and some tens of millions in private contrsct fees.
    Let alone the botes and cpaighn contributions grom Clintonistas and Brady Willows for reason of gun Contro
    Naw can't be that, no President would stoop that loe. Just go shopping, let your rulers take care of it.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Whome

    Cover-up, what did obama know and when did he know it? Do the right thing like Nixon step down. It's your administration you are responsible.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Deesnutz

    The real reason for "Fast and Furious" was for Obama to make another federal gun ban. Before the death of this Border Patrol Agent they were all about crying how weapons from the USA was getting to the cartels, it was their build up for a ban then it blew up in their face and now they are trying to blame the operation on another purpose.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rush dumbaugh

    The global economy is circling the drain. The greedy want larger pieces of a pie they are shrinking.
    The conservative freaks say guns don't kill people. Wonder what this guys family thinks.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • usstruth

      Cars, football, bull riding and sergical malpractice kill people. Perhaps we should ban them too. Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

      The global economy will not improve because a few congressman in the ethics oversight commitee do their jobs and question a AG who lied before congress.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      If I were the family I would be thinking Eric Holder kills people.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melvin Painter

      Hey clueless, put a gun on a table and see how many people it kills. Let the kenyan clown sell guns to the Mexican drug cartel, and many will, and have died. Do the country a favor in November, and STAY HOME!

      June 21, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bob Roberts

    Simply a cynical attempt to get the number of US sourced weapons towards the ridiculously false numbers that have been spewed for years. This would be used as an excuse to ban those weapons in the US – an Obama/Holder/Emanuel agenda item. They are lying liars and got caught at it. Count on more of it and praise Issa, Grassley and be sure to surf up what Congressman Trey Gowdy had to say about it.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mark

    "I'm not a crook!"....................Barry Nixon.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hope

    Executive Order (for Bush's enemies and dark secret... he dwclaed war and began the process without our knowledge and robbed us on top of it

    No more GOP!
    Hope

    June 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      He did? And here I thought the Congress voted and overwhelmingly gave its approval, both democrat and republican.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      Now... compare the damages.

      The People of the U.S. want peace.

      They want their money back with the growth of the stock market! The GOP want us to forget that part. A bailout and we're in the hole. Life goes on even.when the economy fails

      America,

      Take care of your own

      June 21, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      Nope... not til after the attack, both Iraq wars, both Sr
      AND Jr. Iraq... what were they doing there, again?

      Break it to me nice and slow?

      A fake attack on Kuwait and fake reports of WIP's. Which, btw were never found.

      George Bush, in harmony:

      "'We are not crooks", lol inside.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. M

    http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-rachel-maddow-show/47898261#47898261

    June 21, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mark

    Iraq War Resolution: House of Representatives 297-133 in favor (GOP-215/6 Dem-82/126), the Senate 77-23 in favor (GOP-48/1 Dem-29/21). Tell me again it was just Bush.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      Yep... after the troops were on their way. Remember? The special, private meetings with Generals? I sure do!

      June 22, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Jay Dee

      You're right.....it wasn't just Bush......it was republicans!

      June 24, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Greg

    I recall reading about fast a furious months before this agents death, CNN lies.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      I remember discussing this before it happened, too.

      Greg. My Friend, How are You?

      😀

      June 22, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  13. ChrisIsMN

    All this political boo-hooing is a sham. Tracing of the weapons started years earlier under the prior administration and continued under this one, and did so legally. Sad that a law enforcement officer got killed in the line of duty, but he would have been shot by the same criminal anyway, just with a different gun. Also tragic is how no GOPers are worried about the that straw buyers ARE buying large amounts guns to ship to Mexico. FACT.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Hope

    Well, there you go, FBI, a tip! No telling what kinda hay bales are shipping here in exchange... bricks!

    June 22, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. Hope

    ... or cement from Monterrey!

    Nite, all.

    June 22, 2012 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
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