House committee subpoenas ATF for documents on gun probe

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The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today issued a subpoena for documents about a controversial federal gun smuggling probe after the investigating agency missed a deadline for providing the documents voluntarily.

“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,” said Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich quickly responded to Issa, noting that the Justice Department had just yesterday told committee staff that it planned to produce some of the documents yet this week. Weich said Justice cannot provide other documents without compromising ongoing criminal investigations. 

“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,” Weich said. ATF is a component of the Justice Department.

Issa wrote a letter to ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson on March 16, asking him for documents about the so-called Fast and Furious investigation. But Melson didn’t provide the documents by today’s deadline.

Several ATF agents blew the whistle on the Fast and Furious probe, contending that the bureau had allowed hundreds of suspicious firearms to “walk” across the border; some of those firearms were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico. The ATF says it prolonged the investigation to try to bring down the leaders of the gun-trafficking ring.

Two AK-47 semi-automatic rifles being tracked by that investigation were found not far away from where federal Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot and killed on Dec. 16. However, ATF says forensic tests show the guns were not the murder weapons.

The Justice Department says its inspector general will conduct its own review of the Fast and Furious investigation. But Issa questioned whether that investigation could be objective, since ATF is part of the Justice Department.

ATF and Justice have also been reluctant to answer questions raised by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

“I’m still asking questions and we’re still getting the runaround from the Justice Department, [t]hey’re stonewalling,” Grassley said in a statement.

The House committee subpoena has given ATF until April 13th to produce documents.

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