Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) suggested Friday that the role of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could be folded into the FBI in the wake of ATF’s botched Fast and Furious operation.
Issa’s House Oversight Committee has been investigating Fast and Furious, the operation which let guns flow across the border into Mexico in the course of an investigation aimed at stopping gun trafficking.
“ATF, perhaps, should be molded completely into the FBI and be done with it rather than this specialization,” Issa told reporters during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on Friday, suggesting there could be a “special unit” that handles gun laws within the Bureau.
TPM asked Issa whether his plan had any chance of succeeding given that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would almost certainly oppose it. Folding ATF’s duties into the FBI would better protect the enforcement of gun laws from direct political interference given the FBI’s broader duties and superior reputation.
ATF has been without a permanent director since 2006 and is banned from putting gun records on a computer database, hampering their investigative capabilities. The NRA opposed President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the agency because he appeared in a local television interview that the NRA didn’t like and he attended at a meeting with the International Association for the Chiefs of Police, evidence that one group that argues for better gun control called “guilt by association to the first degree.”
The NRA, Issa said Friday, “probably wants real accountability to the people who carry the badges of the ATF, and today there’s a question about whether they have real accountability.”
“When I talk about reform, I’m not going to go forward with something as simple as ‘put it in the FBI,’ because understand, Fast and Furious was an FBI failure,” Issa said.
Issa said he was “concerned about ATF being organized the way it is and being set up for failure,” but said part of the reason is that they have so many issues is because they often get blamed when joint operations with other law enforcement agencies go bad.
“The ATF is not a single organization that runs its show, the ATF is always teamed in these other organizations — so whether it’s Ruby Ridge, or Waco or any of these others, you’ve got a host of other people and then they point at ATF at the end, and that’s why I say that reorganization is inevitable, that organization might create a more stable and larger ATF, I just say we can’t have what we have now,” he continued.
TPM also asked Issa if he would support a specific gun trafficking statute. That’s a proposal supported by ATF agents testifying about Fast and Furious before Issa’s committee, who considered the gun trafficking statues on the book now “toothless.” Issa interjected during the hearing to suggest that ATF agents could answer the questions about weak gun control laws “anecdotally,” but said that their opinions ultimately “would not be considered valid testimony.”
On Friday, Issa suggested solving the larger issue wasn’t high on their priority list.
“It’s way too early for us to report all the failures, and, I have to be honest, we’re not investigating broadly gun trafficking,” Issa said. So what will learn will go to Judiciary — Senator [Chuck] Grassley and Congressman [Lamar] Smith — will have the lion’s share of it. I serve on Judiciary and I do think that’s a referral of information that we will do.”
Issa also spoke about why, unlike some of his Republican colleagues, he hasn’t called for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation over Fast and Furious. His comments are embedded below.