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. BotchedItBig

    1000 weapons were stolen on Holder's watch. He failed to oversee those subordinate to him and that failure resulted in numerous deaths; one of which was Brian Terry's. Holder's head should be on the proverbial "chopping block" and he should be fired with loss of all benefits. Then, to Federal prison.

    June 22, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. Lynn

    I think many people are "buying it." That's why there is an investigation.

    June 22, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. sgr

    Do they have the date that The gun that killed Agent Perry, was one that was delivered to the cartel. It might have taken place under the watch of Pres. Bush, wouldn't that be a shot in the dark.

    June 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Frank

    People of the United States of America,President Obama and AG Holder,
    It s seems to me this Operation was implemented as Wide Receiver under President Bush and turned into Fast & Furious under the Obama Administration.So ,when it turned into Fast & Furious ,it was now under control of the Obama ATF and DOJ etc..If the officals who were then in charge of the operation thought this was wrong and a really bad idea they should have turned it off like a light.President Obama came into office mid Jan 2009,border agent Terry was killed DEC 10 2010.That is almost 2 years into the Obama Administration.This tells me Fast&Furious was condoned and OK to run until the wheels came off.Plus this morning I heard in the News that all Agent Terry had to protect himself that night were Bean Bag rounds to use in his weapon.So the drug dealers were shooting probably 7.62 mm rounds from AK47 type weapons and all Agent Terry had were Bean Bag shotgun rounds.I want to know who was the incompetent moron that would send our Agents out into the desert at night to intercept armed drug dealers with harmless Bean Bags rounds,again, I heard this on the News this AM and have no confirmation it is true .But if it is,I would prosecute Agent Terry's superiors for putting his life in danager.It seems the incompetence in the Administration is tremendous.

    June 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. T. E. Lawrence O. A.

    * BRIAN TERRY WAS KILLED by a Mexican criminal, not by the US Federal Government. Even if his gun was NOT supplied by the US Feds, he still would have killed Mr. Terry. He never would have gone out with no weapon.

    Whoever supplied that gun must go to jail, but the GOP needs to STOP USING BRIAN TERRY AS A POLITICAL PAWN. He would have been killed no matter what.

    THE NRA used to argue that NO "Straw Man" gun purchases on the Mexico border existed and that NO American's supplying guns to Mexican Criminals are responsible for the violence – why has the NRA changed it's argument? Before the F&F fiasco, they argued the exact opposite of what they say today...

    June 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |

    Argue all you want folks but people are dying and all your mental masturbating is not going to stop it.
    All the populace wants is to not be bothered with such trivial matters, and political watching has become no more than if a football or basketball talk show, players and teams.

    June 22, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. leftywriteagain

    Bush supplied guns to thousands of americans to go to a unjust war. How many died?

    June 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JWR

    Congress; who cares? Where are the jobs!!! Do some real work for a change!!

    June 22, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JWR

    It's the fault of every coke snorting, dope smoking American. That's where the real blame lies.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ricardoh

    Some of you do not understand that the ATF made the gun retailers sell the weapons to people who would not otherwise be qualified to purchase weapons. I have for many years doubted the people who run the ATF.. Waco and Ruby Ridge come to mind.

    June 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Upside down

      @Ricardo, that's obfuscation. A scheme was planned, coordinated, and executed. A direct consequence of this hare-brained scheme was thousands of automatic weapons going to Mexico to feed that bloodfest, and an American border patrol agent getting killed. WHAT HAPPENED? How can this occur with a local approval authority? It didn't. How high did it go? Who approved what? It is not OK and let's let bygones be bygones.

      Brian Terry's parents and Americans have a right to know what happened, and Obama is concealing it, and Holder perjured himself. Simple as that.

      June 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • BADGUY

      But..Waco and Ruby Ridge are entirely different subjects. The subject here is the ATF's plan to track weapons going into Mexico. Maybe it was "botched"..but many good plans are "botched". I'd like to hear MORE about the ATF's plan to track these weapons. If it's classified, fine,but then I'd like to at least find out there WAS a plan. THAT would answer a lot of questions!

      June 23, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Chum Gang Jr.

      I voted for Obama – but I am shocked by the terrorism that he using against America Citizens who smoke Medical Marijuana... no one will make the same mistake ever again..

      June 23, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Abe Lincoln

      Obama and Bush should be arrested and tried for crimes against Humanity – stupid little jerks.

      June 24, 2012 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • RemynRay

      This is to UPSIDE DOWN ... you / no one can purchase an automatic weapon at 99% of gun store!!! There are very few speciality gun stores that deal in automatic weapons. If you do want to purchase an automatic weapon you have to have the federal governments permission. R & R

      June 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Upside down

    What becomes of a country whose greatest criminal is the attorney general entrusted with upholding law? We are doomed, and we brought it on ourselves.

    June 22, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. madmaninthemiddle

    The DOJ is not responsible for Terry's death. The drug runners who killed him are. Does anyone honestly believe the drug cartels were sitting around wondering where they could get some weapons? That they would not be armed if not for F&F? That they would not be murderous thugs if not for this failed program?

    As conservatives love to point out – guns don't kill people; people kill people.

    I guess that maxim has been put aside in order to make histrionic accusations against the Administration.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • JAred

      Yeah, I'm sorry but you are living in a fantasy world. When the government hands a gang of murderous thugs thousands of assault rifles, what do you think will happen?

      June 23, 2012 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Chum Gang Jr.

      Obama is a terrorist and Holder is an accessory to murder – just like Bush.

      June 23, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • LJ

      Yeah. I think no one should be concerned if we put guns into the hands of felons (convicted or not)-even into the hands of the drug lords–they obviously would not use the guns to do bad things, like hurt and kill people. The guns did it all! Hmmm. Truth: Holder and likely the President are accomplices in facilitating murder by giving murders guns–they gave murders guns through this program! They made no effort to track those guns. They flat out gave murders guns.

      June 25, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • thinkithru

      When is the Federal Government going to come clean on how many weapons programs has been a disaster? Fast and furious was just a tip of the iceburg of how many weapons has reached (some offered willingly) to not only drug cartel but enemies of this country. How about the US Government show on record how many military supplies (vehicles, ammo, weapons and computer technology) has been misplaced, stolen and given away, all while we sit to aid in foreign countries that now have our own government issued weapons pointing at us.

      June 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Howdydoody

      Thousands of guns were allowed to walk. Not 1 or 2. Thousands. Had those guns not been allowed to walk, then it's highly possible that the person that had the gun that killed him, wouldn't have been able to get ahold of it in the 1st place.
      So, when Republicans pull the Dem ploy of saying "Think of the Children" the Dem response is, "Oh well the guy I voted for is in office, screw the children."

      And to the person saying thousands of automatic weapons were allowed. Not is horse poop. There aren't thousands of automatic weapons for sale at any gun stores. 99% of automatic weapons in the hands of civilians, IE not the government are not for sale. The ones that are are prohibitively expensive. The true automatic weapons found in Mexico are either hack job conversions of semi-auto weapons, or the most common, they are guns bought from Mexican soilders.

      June 25, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. madmaninthemiddle

    Terry was not killed by the DOJ. He was murdered by drug dealers.

    Are gun manufacturers responsible for gun violence? Does anyone believe that these thugs did not already have access to weapons.

    Remember my conservative friends: Guns don't kill people- people kill people.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • madmaninthemiddle

      Sorry for the double post. Not sure why my posts appear out of sync with the timeline, but I assumed it got blocked.

      June 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      This was a plain attack by liberal socialists on the 2nd amendment. They planned on pointing to the problem with OUR GUNS and then follow-up by working to take them away from the people of this country. These wannabee RULERS of the U.S. are boneheads who got in bed with other boneheads in an effort to do no more than gain control of something they desire to control. I'll put my trust in ALL of my neighbors who own guns, who's parents & grandparents owned guns & taught them right about the responsibility of owning guns. I will never put my trust in a govt that wants to take us over in such a fundamental way.

      June 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BADGUY

    What I wanna know...does ANYONE know?...what was the plan to track these weapons once they left the hands of the illegal middle men who bought them in Arizona and moved them across the border? With out a tracking plan (embedded GPS transponder, etc) how could they hope to track these weapons?

    June 23, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      What do you mean "does anyone know"? Whenever anyone doesn't want to share details it's because the details implicate someone. Whenever govt administrations play stupid it's because they are afraid that the mistake they made will cost them votes and POWER. The problem with coming clean on this one however is that the Obama administration would be found guilty of trying to create a perception that guns in the US are a problem that gun control (their ultimate desire) is justified. The truth is that morons like this pretending to be public servants should be imprisoned.

      June 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • LJ

      They made no effort to track the guns–that is the problem–they gave murders guns and did not even bother to track them. this is one of the reasons why this is so serious–we cannot let a government give drug lords guns like that.

      June 25, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. BADGUY

    Is it true? According to the above article, the ATF supplied guns were "found at the site where Terry was killed". Does that mean, they may NOT be ones used to kill him?

    June 23, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • LJ

      Whether the gun was used to kill the agent or not is not as important as the fact the gun was "knowingly sold to felons–drug lords" Who in their right mind would sell a gun to a person(s) who has committed murder and mayhem, like the drug lords do?

      June 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
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