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)

    I would guess this whole "issue" is an exercise in futility. I don't think enough information will be released to the general public, due it's classified nature, for ANY of us to make a rational decision on "which way is up". Let's face it: The United States is at WAR with the Mexican Drug Cartels as much as were we were with the Viet Cong, the Iraqi's and now the Taliban. Classified programs are started to fight those wars. Some are a success. Some are failures. People die! That's the nature of War. I think this Fast and Furious program COULD have produced results. Maybe it DID! It's unfortunate that Mr. Terry died, but we lost 50,000+ troops in Vietnam, 5,000+ Troops om Iraq. That's what happens in War. Let this issue be worked by the people that are cleared for classified information. Bringing our espionage techniques "out in the open" so the Drug Cartels can take counter action IS NOT the way to fight this War!

    June 23, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |

    What's up CNN monitors?
    Don't like when you are scooped on a related botched job by an independent journalist?
    My words did have context to this article, but then they did not come from an"officialy approved" medium.
    All part of the game,good move.

    June 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |

    For anyone to say that Ruby Ridge, and the Camp Davidian incidents to not have bearing on todays mindset of BATF is one more case of deliberate ignorance as those actoons set the precedents for being able to increase the abuse of power by that agency.
    The BATF is a political tool,and today there is no seperation between military powers domestic and international and both those previous incidents setback. Civil Rights in this nationBoth incidents showed criminal collusion between government agencys and military useage, sniper Ruby Ridge same as at Waco, but the oh well my government knows best, why question their motives lower than sheep. invertibrates

    June 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tweaver1945

    Hey, at least CNN is attempting to cover this story – unbiased which is appreciated. As for Holder, I am sure that he convinced his paw-paw that this could 'possibly' implicate the WH therefore the Executive Priviledge route; however, I believe this to be Holder and some of his underlings that are mired deeply in this mess.

    June 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • John _Atlanta GA

      There is absolutly no evidence to even suggest that Holder is in any way involved. Nothing! Republicans are using this as a witch hunt for headlines and politics. It is all they have. Contempt charges for not releasing information he cannot legally release? Wake up people.

      June 25, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jay Dee

    Brian Terry's parents have no right to any confidential information abot the operation that isn't made public by the committee investigating the operation. Terry knew the dangers involved when he signed on to play in the game, and was paid well for the job he was doing. His parents have no more right to know information than the parents of any serviceman that is killed in action on a special ops mission. It's the risk you take when you join a brotherhood.

    June 24, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. tcher

    Let's be real here. The U.S. had been allowing guns to go to violent groups in Mexico, and all over the world, for decades. This is not new. While the agent's death is a tragedy, it strikes me as very ironic that people are out to tar and feather Eric Holder over this–but not all of the other officials over the years who have allowed similar things to happen. Iran-Contra, anyone?

    June 25, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Carl Guyer

    I'l throw Holder to the wolves, if conseratives agree those selling guns are responsible for crimes committed with said weapons.

    June 25, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. Carl Guyer

    Gun Rights activists should avoid this issue like the plague. It has backfire written all over it, down goes Holder and down goes gun ownership rights. Is this ironic or what?

    June 25, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. Understanding

    Problem is that the ATF knowingly supplied guns to criminals and then waited for them to show up at crime scenes.

    In the US if someone is shot during a robbery and your sitting in the get away car you're guilty of murder.

    What's next arming Al qaeda.

    This is not a Right vs Left issue, as the ATF planned for people to get hurt and should be held accountable.

    How far up the tree did this stupid idea go is the question?

    June 25, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  10. RemynRay

    IF the DoJ and THE WHITE HOUSE did nothing wrong then why did the president envoke executive privilage? There was no reason for the AG to stone wall since last year and when pushed then the president had to protect someone or several someones...... Thanks, R & R

    June 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      People kill people not free guns, not the gun providers, not the gun either, it is the bullet.

      June 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan in RI

      First, Issa (and on Fox News by the way), said twice there were no evidence of a coverup by the Administration.
      But now, WOW, the Administration offered some concession and wants to provide information, but Issa and the House said no? If they were that concerned about the family of the slain patrolman, shouldn't they have asked them before denying the offer made by the Administration?
      If the contempt charge holds, the Justice Department should take this court. This way, all evidences, including those from the previous Administration (in which period this program started, is available to the people. If Issa does not want to question everyone involved (when requested by other members of his committee), then DOJ should do so in court. Call in the previous AG.
      This is a witch hunt and Issa and the gullible politicians (both Reps and Dems) who go along with this need to be voted out!! PS- you work for the people, not the NRA!!!

      June 27, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • m1k3

      Its invoke not envoke. Executive privilege secures the Presidents' secure communications. Secure information does not imply wrongdoing.

      This was a typical Bush screwup. All information about the operation iself has been released to Congress. Republicans want political ammunition but that gun doesn't fire.

      From 2009-2011 the ATF recovered 30,000 weapons from Mexico, to which the 1,000 Bush gave away is a minute number.

      The problem here is simple: our country is gun merchant to the world, and this is the problem that must be addressed.

      See that look on "Bad Dog" Boehner this morning at his announcement he's let the dogs out? Bad dog.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • commonsense

      If it was that important, why not investigate the Bush administration that initiated this strategy, and also, is it only important that a U.S. agent/soldier got killed (God Bless him), but why haven't the justice department launched an investigation into the thousands of homicides in Mexico from drug cartels to see how many american guns were involved. So only an american life counts. over 50,000 homicides in mexico from guns the U.S. help flood mexico with but we make a stink about 1 soldier. The homicide rate would not be that high in mexico if we didnt run the guns down there in the first place.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • dnick47

      Because it was a covert operation. Names could be leaked resulting in more deaths. That's way. Security around the House of Representaatives is like a sieve .

      June 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. scott

    Why is Holder not in jail already? Obama's Boy needs to pay for his crimes....

    June 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Why George W. Bush is not in jail? He started this practice of giving guns to criminals across the border.

      June 27, 2012 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. yahmez

    The "Fast and Furious" scandal was irresponsible, to say the least. To blame murders on Obama and Holder is short sighted. The vast majority of murders, in Mexico and along it's border with the US, are committed with weapons procured through other channels. Many people are killed with machetes that are not illegal to purchase or own. The action by Representative Issa is completely ignoring the fact that these murders are a direct result of America's drug prohibition that makes trafficking drugs highly profitable for the cartels. These murders are a result of the war on drugs. Do not leave that out of the conversation, or you have your head in the sand.

    June 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Manuel J.

      You forgot to leave out the not-so-subtle part that a U.S. Law enforcement agency (ATF), under Holder's area of responsibility, allowed illegal weapons to flow into Mexico under the guise of a Federally-sponsored and sanctioned program.

      Those same weapons were used to MURDER tow U.S. Federal agents; one in AZ, one in Mexico.

      The Bush administration once considered a similar program but determined it was fraught with too many holes; no pun intended.

      June 26, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan in RI

      First, if Issa is too worried in getting an answer for the slain patrolman, should he not have asked the family if they want to see what the Administration had to offer today? WOW, the Administration offered some concession and wants to provide information, but Issa and the House said no? If they were that concerned about the family of the slain patrolman, shouldn't they have asked them before denying the offer made by the Administration?
      If the contempt charge holds, the Justice Department should take this court. This way, all evidences, including those from the previous Administration (in which period this program started, is available to the people. If Issa does not want to question everyone involved (when requested by other members of his committee), then DOJ should do so in court. Call in the previous AG.
      This is a witch hunt and Issa and the gullible politicians (both Reps and Dems) who go along with this need to be voted out!! PS- you work for the people, not the NRA!!!

      June 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • m1k3

      You got that right. Its passed and spurious. The criminal (Issa, who fought charges of car theft and arson) going after the cop. How very Republicon.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  13. joshua

    Holder has committed crimes. He needs to be tried and punished along with anyone else who was involved in Fast and Furious and the cover up.

    June 26, 2012 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. Manuel J.

    This issue "smells" too much like Watergate!!

    June 26, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. Andy Smith

    So hold up....we tried to sell guns to the cartels, so we can bust them? And we are finding issues with this? Don't we do the same thing with illegal drugs? Don't we occassionally have undercover cops join the drug cartels here, legitimize them by allowing them to perform some illegal transactions, in an effort to bust the drug dealers and find out the real bosses of the drug cartels? Are you trying to tell me that none of the drugs sold by these undercover cops didn't make it out into the street and potentially hurt innocent people or caused a shootout with other cops? Didn't we take a similar approach to organized crime? Implant some cops into the mob, have them participate in illegal activities of the organized crime unit to become one of them, then bust the mob based on information from these undercover cops? How is this Fast and Furious incident very different? Should we stop infiltrating drug cartels, organized crime mobs, etc, because infiltrating may get law enforcement into doing some illegal things ?

    June 26, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
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