Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) wants answers about Project Gunrunner — a controversial initiative targeting illegal gun trafficking on the Mexico border — and he wants them now.
On Friday, Issa announced he was issuing a subpoena to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for documents related to Project Gunrunner. The project is taking heat after a whistleblower told media outlets that ATF supervisors ordered agents not to intercept weapons made in suspicious sales — but instead to monitor them to see where the weapons ended up.
The agency faces allegations that it intentionally let more than 1,700 guns be illegally trafficked to Mexico — with some weapons ending up in the hands of criminals.
Issa previously said that a probe into Project Gunrunner would be one of his primary investigations as Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
In a release, Issa attacked the Obama administration as being reluctant to answer questions about the project, while noting that President Obama himself had recently said that neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder authorized the methods allegedly employed.
“The unwillingness of this Administration - most specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms - to answer questions about this deadly serious matter is deeply troubling,” the release reads. “Allegations surrounding this program are serious and the ability of the Justice Department to conduct an impartial investigation is in question. Congressional oversight is necessary to get the truth about what is really happening.”
The subpoena includes a request for information about the death of Border Agent Brian Terry. Some have alleged the agent was killed by guns allowed to pass into Mexico by ATF.
Here are the subpoena requests in full:
1. Documents and communications relating to the genesis of Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, and any memoranda or reports involving any changes to either program at or near the time of the release of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General report about Project Gunrunner in November 2010.
2. Documents and communications relating to individuals responsible for authorizing the decision to “walk” guns to Mexico in order to follow them and capture a “bigger fish.”
3. Documents and communications relating to any investigations conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) or any other DOJ component following the fatal shooting of Agent Brian Terry, including information pertaining to two guns found at the crime scene that may have been connected to Project Gunrunner.
4. Documents and communications relating to any weapons recovered at the crime scene or during the investigation into the death of Agent Brian Terry.
5. Documents and communications between ATF and the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) who sold weapons to Jaime Avila, including any Report of Investigation (ROI) or other records relating to a December 17, 2009 meeting “to discuss his role as an FFL during this investigation.”
6. A copy of the presentation, approximately 200 pages long, that the Group 7 Supervisor made to officials at ATF headquarters in the spring of 2010.
7. Documents and communications relating to Operation Fast and Furious between and among ATF headquarters and Special Agent in Charge William D. Newell, Assistant Special Agents in Charge Jim Needles and George Gillette, Group Supervisor David Voth, or any Case Agent from November 1, 2009 to the present. The response to this component of the subpoena shall include a memorandum, approximately 30 pages long, from SAC Newell to ATF headquarters following the arrest of Jaime Avila and the death of Agent Brian Terry.
8. Documents and communications relating to complaints or objections by ATF agents about: (1) encouraging, sanctioning, or otherwise allowing FFLs to sell firearms to known or suspected straw buyers, (2) failure to maintain surveillance on known or suspected straw buyers, (3) failure to maintain operational control over weapons purchased by known or suspected straw buyers, or (4) letting known or suspected straw buyers with American guns enter Mexico.
Late Update: The Department of Justice (DOJ) has responded to Issa’s Project Gunrunner subpoena request — and they aren’t happy. In a letter sent to Issa, Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general at the DOJ, states that the department had already communicated its intent to provide the requested documents, within the next week. He said the DOJ was disappointed by Issa’s actions, finding the subpoena an “unnecessary step.”
From the letter:
Yesterday, we informed Committee staff that we intended to produce a number of responsive documents within the next week. As we explained, there are some documents that we would be unable to provide without compromising the Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into the death of Agent Brian Terry as well as other investigations and prosecutions, but we would seek to work productively with the Committee to find other ways to be responsive to its needs.
We were therefore surprised and disappointed when shortly after we notified your staff of our intent to work with the Committee, you nevertheless issued a subpoena a few hours later. Despite this unnecessary step on your part, we will review the subpoena and work with the Committee to address your concerns.
Read the whole letter here.
Issa requested documents about ATF on March 16. In a release announcing the subpoena, he wrote that “ATF failed to meet the March 30th deadline for producing these documents and furthermore refused to voluntarily commit to any date for producing them.”