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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soundoff (248 Responses)
  1. Tom

    Stop drinking the koolaid! This did not start with Bush. Operation wide receiver was done in collaboration with the Government of Mexico and when they didn't hold up their end of the deal by arresting the individuals who took the weapons into mexico it ended. Fast and Furious was done without the knowledge of Mexico. There is absolutely no tie to Bush here. Holder admitted this in his congressional testimony! Obama, so much for a transparent administration! Demo RATS hold contempt proceedings on the firing of US Attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the president, but an Agent dies and the investigation is political. Valerie Plame is not a covert agent, but a special prosecutor is named by the DemoRATs but leaks about informants in Yeman and covert computer viruses against Iran aren't important. Wake up America!

    June 22, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      The tone of your message alone reeks of koolaid.... When someone outwardly tells ya not to do something, they're probably already guilty of doing it themselves...

      June 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. chippedandtracked

    What if we were to find out that many of these guns were chipped and tracked by satellite over large distances, that we do this in many other parts of the world, and it has had an immensely beneficial effect in the war on drugs and the war on terrorism.
    Why would the Republicans want to damage this resource in a mindless effort to score political points by hanging it out for our enemies to see?
    This is the lowest possible road ever taken by a political party to damage a sitting administration and do harm to our national security.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Stacey

      I don't know where you're getting your Information From the biggest problems with this operation, that there was no mechanism in any way shape or form of tracking these firearms, the operation under the Bush administration have the ability to track Every single gun, under fast And furious, why Do you think it took them so long to figure out the gun that killed the border agent and the 200 other human beings in Mexico.

      June 22, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
    • mike

      So you create some "what if" fictional scenario and then slam the Republicans for harming it. WOW! You and Nancy Pelosi have a lot in common and it aint good pal!

      June 22, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  3. wayne

    It will be fun to see just how dirty the white clown really is. The incompetent community organizer should be held responsible for Border Patrol Agents death and the other civilians killed by his stupidity.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      Wayne,what about Bush and his war created with lies,he's killed thousands,does that count or republicans as you ignorently think held to a higher standard than democrates,the party that constantly has to clean up after your republican idiots,its done after every election cycle.Roosevelt after Hoover,Clinton after Bush41,Obama after Bush 43,now tell me I'm wrong and I'll tell you how ignorent you and your party really is,read up how republican treasonsonists are constantly screwing up people and economies for years,its a fact,read it!!!

      June 22, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Leo

    By the way folks, this is not a Black and White. Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman issue. Please don't play the race card and make it one.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      It seems to me the only racists are the ones making the racial remarks! And sadly, they are using African-Americans for their own political agenda!

      June 22, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. Stacey

    there's a little problem with this article There was no means for the ATF Trace the firearms, unlike the gunrunning operation under the Bush administration in which every single firearm was track-able this operation had no mechanism in which to track the firearms and there was further discussion as to the reason of operation involving the government's desire to curtail sales of guns in the US based on the data from this operation that was supposed to show how many guns were going across The border.
    so not only was this an ill-conceived idea the premise of it was to take away rights from US citizens.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  6. had2inNJ

    reply to STUART.... You are incorrect sir...I'm not putting the blame on Bush... Its Obama mess...plain and simple

    June 22, 2012 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. had2inNJ

    reply to STUART...Sir I am not putting the blame on Bush.... This is Obama's mess plain and simple...But you sir should find out the facts before you post your comment

    June 22, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  8. had2inNJ

    reply to STUART...Sir I am not putting the blame on Bush.... This is Obama's mess plain and simple...But you sir should find out the facts before you post your comment...........

    June 22, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. HWB

    Sara you are in denial. The program that began in 2006 was not run like they were runned with Fast and Furious. Those were done with the cooperation of the Mexican govenment and with limited guns to track them. Holder stop it only because he and his cronnies got caught and lied about it and had no choice but to put an end to it. That is like saying Bush owned part of the Texas Rangers and they were a losing team. Now they have new ownership and if they lose, it is Bush fault. You obviously are pretty stupid.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. Lynn

    Under the Bush administration, the guns were never allowed to "walk" and operation "Wide Receiver" was done with the help of the Mexican government. All the guns under the Bush operation were recovered. Operation "Fast and Furious" was done in an attempt to create a crisis under the Obama administration to make claims that guns from America were ending up in the hands of Mexican gangs. They did this so that they could make new laws restricting ownership of these types of guns in America. In one of the letters uncovered from the investigation says that if this operation excilates in the media, the Obama administration would say it was a continuation of the "Wide Receiver" operation of the Bush administration. Well that's only part of the truth. Obama was not interested in getting the bad guys, his administration perverted a Bush operation to promote gun control in America. Guns were allowed to walk and In the end hundreds of people were murdered with those guns. That's what this is all about.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Ronaldo

      @Lynn, great concise post, spot on. This story is an outrage. With watergate, leftists were out-of-their-minds livid, but there were no dead bodies. How ironic is it that the president's job is to ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense, but instead of doing that Obama is flooding machine guns into a fifty thousand fatality drug war with at least one American border patrol dead. Obama is anti thetical to domestic tranquility and common defense. This is far worse than Nixon's lies about watergate.

      June 22, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • dwech

      Lynn, you are touting a conspiracy that would take many people and a lot of coordination to pull off - and no one is buying it. F&F was a botched 'sting' operation - and the idea behind it no different than other similar operations. If this had ended in a group of significant arrests, the reaction would be different. Th e bottom line is that ATF made mistakes in tracking the weapons, and a border agent died as a result of the situation on the Mexican border, not because of the source of a single (or multiple) guns

      June 22, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Howard

      And we all know that gun control is a bad bad thing. Riiiiight.

      June 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bert L

      There is no doubt that Fast and Furious was bungled but the outrage comes from the fact that it highlights that new gun control laws are needed. If the guns that "walked" are not the only guns that got through (highly likely) then new gun control laws are need. If those guns are the only ones that got through then gun control works are should be expanded. Either way increased gun control is needed. The Republicans and the NRA would like to mask this fact, hence, the outrage in an attempt to scare off ATF and the Obama Administration.

      June 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • fred37ify

      You are correct ! Anyone saying Bush started Fast and Furious is a useful idiot to Barrack !

      June 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Greg

    bush's program ended in 07. so the claim that F&F started under bush is false, even holder said so.

    secondly holder did not stop the program. according to him he didn't even know it existed when the program was terminated. so how could he have stopped it?

    everyone blaming this on bush is just sad. do some home work and you will learn that the only similarities between the two operations were that they both involved guns and crossing the border. bush's operation had non functioning guns that had tracking devices not to mention the approval of the Mexican authorities and approval of the state department for guns to cross the border. F&F had none of these. they are two completely different operations. again, EVEN HOLDER SAID SO.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bob

    The ATF approved selling of guns illegally began in 2006 (under Bush) and was called "Operation Wide Receiver". Look it up.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Viet.Vet

      You are spot on, just like Issa the haters are not interested in facts only BS conspiracy theory.

      June 22, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rosslaw

    I'm sure that the Republicans are ready to shift their focus any minute and go after the low life scuzzball criminal sleaze who sold the weapos to the carels in the first place. Yessiree, any minute now.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Howard

      The Republicans believe in professional courtesy. Therefore they will not go after life scuzzball criminal sleaze.

      June 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jay

    It look like ATF should be held responsible for the death of he Agent Terry. AG Holder being from NYC probably don't even like guns., so I don't see anything there for the AG at all. The GOP love gun and glory....

    June 22, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. Heinz A. Rost

    Considering the latest information on this mess, ATF should not be a Government Agency, Alcohol, Tabacco, and Firearms should be a Chein of convinience stores.

    June 22, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
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