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)

    @ HUTCH
    Very accurate on differences between Bush JD's. sting operation snd Obamas, who the hell realy knows program, very covise amd to point.
    As a point of fact both Eric Holder and Charles Grassley both retracted their statements that program began under Bush watch
    Possibly to avoid prosecution for perjury from their previous statements. yetthere are more statements left that may indeed be concidered perjury.
    Holder, after a memo was leaked, had to retract his statement of how long he knew of program, by more than a year and a quarter.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:08 am | Report abuse |

    There is a book, actually three I know of, being written on the whole US Mexico not just gun running but collusion to deprive. Many Mexican citizens of property and ability to present grievances in a completely corrupt Judicial system.
    The drug war has many facets to it, and it began not with drugs but mostly with populace demands in education, southern area land thefts from indigeous peoples by a large religios group near a lake in US with U S military help.
    I doubt it. the one book close to home will be released in US, no market or interest but a Spanish language amd Euro in English.
    In my not so humble opinion it is a waste of time to try and tell truths in U S and who gives a damn what. an ineffectual U S populace thinks, more important that the world knows

    June 22, 2012 at 5:22 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    Why is it that I am just hearing about this if it ocurred so long ago?

    June 22, 2012 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Realist

      I'll tell you why, because Obama's loudest cheerleaders (CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC et al) have buried this story because it shines a light on this Administration's weaknesses; Leadership, Honest, and most importantly of all, common sense. Obama has no business being President; he has no clue as to what's going on in the US.

      June 22, 2012 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Edward C

      Government cover-up, as usual.

      June 22, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Why?

      Perhaps you only go to Democratic supported websites like CNN. Maybe you should do like I do and read both CNN and Fox News and then compare what stories are covered.

      June 22, 2012 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • 2tor

      Its your choice of news services.

      June 22, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      So long ago? It's not so long ago for Brian Terry's family and other US citizens who actually want justice. If one of your loved ones was lost in this type of situation you wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it. As long as you weren't affected personally then it should just go away? If some jerk who is never brought to justice harms you or a member of your family how would you feel if your neighbors asked you why you simply can't get over it? Thanks for being so focused on yourself and blowing off the important reasons why this has to be dealt with by ALL free citizens of this country.

      June 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • dee

      Because the wonderful mainstram media is not doing it's job. They have confused themselves and now think that protecting Obama is their job. Not the American people!

      June 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Where has CNN been on this? It sounds as though it is a MAJOR story but CNN chose not to cover it until now? Why is that?

    June 22, 2012 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
    • some guy in New Hampshire

      Is it a major story or is it just a major initiative by the right wing to further demonize everything Obama does? If there's something real here that should be investigated, the Republicanistas in Congress are exactly the wrong people to do it because they have no credibility.

      June 22, 2012 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    This scandal is bigger than Watergate,no died in Watergate! This operation has lead to the deaths of 2 American agents and who knows how many people in Mexico. Unfortunately the story has been largely ignored and under reported by our media.

    June 22, 2012 at 7:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      Great point! Liberal controlled media like MSNBC & CNN are drudging up Watergate from 40 years ago to project focus off of this socialist, liberal B.S. No media is perfect because imperfect human beings are involved. Media that is 95% in the pocket of our federal govt is a slap in the face to 300 million US citizens. Rumor has it that Andrea Mitchell is Adolph Hitler's great grand-daughter (love child) and even with the brain damage she suffered as a child, she is still focused on great-grandpa's methods and success.... however limited. A.H. would be proud of her support of socialism!

      June 23, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • yahmez

      This is how to tell if a politician is lying. His/her lips move. They are ALL guilty of perjury at some point.

      June 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. studdmuffins

    The firings may come but it is usually just some low-level lackey(s) to placate the public. The top officials are essentially teflon coated.

    June 22, 2012 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. joshua

    and now we ask, "What did the president know and when did he know it?" Based on an interview Obama did on Mexican TV, he claimed that he didn't know about the illegal gun running and Holder didn't know about the illegal gun running. Now we find out that Holder was the one who ended the illegal program. If he was the one who ended it, he would have known about the program before Obama gave the interview. So now the justice department is trying its best to hide what they know and when they knew it. This is a Richard Nixon style cover up and no one in the main stream media is asking any questions. Why?

    June 22, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. RAL

    Your not HEARING about anything bad about this administration ??? The Media is so in love with Obama they get a tingle up their leg like Tim Matthews .Rachael Maddof spews hate nightly while they slander any radio or TV staion that is... Darei say it FAIR & BALANCED. Might be a rude awakening but try listening/watching and get the truth!
    They hide the truth and BLAME BUSH & the Congress which is controlled on the Senate side by them. Wake up Libs and face th truth you voted in an incompedent self serving egotistical in over his head socialist leaning .way over to destroy our freedom..Give up the worship and really look at who he is ..He talks the talk but can't walk the walk with out he socialist buddies counseling him.

    June 22, 2012 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. DIVIDED 50

    @Why? Why?, you make a great point. News should be gathered from many sources and then compared for consistancy in the reporting.

    June 22, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. had2in nj

    for those who have said Bush started Fast and Furious .. He's 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 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • BADGUY

      The problem is: I'm guessing the government ran up against Cartel spy's, within the Mexican Government, who would pass the information along to the Cartels. I'm NOT sure if that was the case, but it would explain why the US government decided to "go it alone"?

      June 23, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      Excellent point, and absolutely factual! Thank you had2in nj!

      June 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay Dee

      Perhaps the Obama finally realized that contactiing the Mexican government might cause an alert to the drug cartel, much of what happened in Pakistan during the oeration to get Osama Bin Laden. The Paki's we not notified and the operation was successful, as we all learned that had the Paki's been notified, Bin Laden maystill be a free man today. I don't recall anyone objecting when Obama sent the SEALS in Pakistan without notifying them first. I elieve the reason some information was withheld due to the agents learning that the cartels had a government informant, and the Obama administration is keeping it hushed until a more proper time.....and rightfully so. One moment the people complain about a leak and the next time they complain about information that isn't leaked. You need to make up your minds.

      June 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Naota

    How does Geraldo know what Holder and Obama knew?

    No one even knows who conceived or approved of Fast and Furious.

    For all we know – it was Obama's idea.

    Where are the answers ???

    Why the cover up??

    June 22, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  12. modinde

    it started September 2009 with 2500 automatic weapons given to a selected group of gun shops near the border. Several whistle blowers were screaming about the danger, 400 dead Mexican nationals later. The demote six whistle blowers and relocated them across the country, including Alaska. Other ne ws net work s have been reporting on this for over 18 months. Finally c n n catches up to the truth/reality

    June 22, 2012 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      How do citizens of this country who's ancestors lived in Mexico and still have family in Mexico feel about them being treated as "expendable" by Barack Obama? The fake bone he threw to immigrants is something he promised to DEAL WITH an help these people have a real way to choose to come into the U.S. legally. Instead he leaves them right where they are to worry and live with the same chaos instead of leading this country and all of N. America by helping us to work together as countries. Obama is about votes and power. Once he's out of office you won't see him following up on anything he started as a leader of the free world because he is NOT a leader of the free world.

      June 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Thomas Henley

    Heavens knows I don't think anyone expects this Administration or any Administration to be perfect, people make...we all make mistakes. In the adult world of business admitting you have made a mistake and being forth coming about it goes a long way to convincing others you are credible and a sincere business partner. People are generally then forgiven based on their own honesty, integrity and humility.

    I can accept people make mistakes, I can't accept when they pretend it was someone else's fault and try to cover up their involvement.

    Obama supporters often keen to make him seem on one hand perfect, and on the other hand a victim of mean spirited racists who give him no slack, do themselves, the nation and Obama no favor by continuing to insist he and no one in his administration make no mistakes, and that everything that does go wrong is the fault of a president that hasn't served in almost 4 years now.

    If you make a mistake or fall short, admit it, fess up, appologize move on, most of us will forgive you, cover things up and tell us night is day, and black is white, and you just appear to be someone not cut out for the job and or to vote.

    June 22, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    Just why is the most transparent administration ever (joke) now so eager to keep all of this so hush, hush. Could the rumors be true that one reason this program was initiated and allowed to proceed was to provide a reason to demoncrats to initiate gun control in this country? Too bad a border agent had to die! Oooops didn't see that coming. I cannot wait for the truth to come out and none of the mainstream is going to be able to bury it by ignoring it.

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

      Obama's "hope and change" has actually worked! He hoped it would change him financially and it has! And his transparency promise has been fulfilled too. He personally and his administration is SO transparent that they are invisible! It's the untouchables on steroids only we elected Al Capone. Chicago politics should be the govt of the world!!!

      June 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. sara

    Jack please go back And see where it started. They started distribution of the guns back in 2006. They stated above that they should have warned Obama that this was going on, but they didn't. Eric holder came in and put a stop to this. It is unfortunate that this man lost his life. These guns are still out there floating around from criminal to criminal. All involved has something to do with this from Bush, to the FBI.

    June 22, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • dee

      Sara..the operation started under Bush was a very controlled program. The Bush administration worked with and contacted the Mexican administration. The Bush administration put tracking devices in each gun and make arrests of the people buying the guns. The bad guys had figured out the gun had tracking devices in them Bush put a stop to the operation in 2007!!! It was the Obama administraction that started a new program in 2009, with out telling the Mexican administration and with out tracking the guns.....this is the Obama and Holder scandal. Bush has nothing to do with it other than they had also tried this stupid program and stopped it. Do your research...don't blindly believe the media. They have an agenda to keep this out of the sight of the American people. Because it will damage the President. As well it should ...many many people lost a loved one in this mess.

      June 23, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
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