WASHINGTON â€” The Justice Department on Friday provided Congress with documents detailing how department officials gave inaccurate information to a U.S. senator in the controversy surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed law enforcement initiative aimed at dismantling major arms trafficking networks on the Southwest border.
In a letter last February to Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had not sanctioned the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser and that the agency makes every effort to intercept weapons that have been purchased illegally. In connection with Operation Fast and Furious, both statements have turned out to be incorrect.
The Justice Department response was to a letter by Grassley saying the Senate Judiciary Committee had received allegations that the law enforcement agency had sanctioned the sale of hundreds of assault weapons to suspected straw purchasers. Grassley also wrote that two of the assault weapons had been used in a shootout that killed customs agent Brian Terry.
In an email four days later to Justice Department colleagues, then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Phoenix said that â€œGrassleyâ€™s assertions regarding the Arizona investigation and the weapons recoveredâ€ at the â€œmurder scene are based on categorical falsehoods. I worry that ATF will take 8 months to answer this when they should be refuting its underlying accusations right now.â€ That email marked the start of an internal debate in the Justice Department over how much to say in response to Grassleyâ€™s allegations. The fact that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into Terryâ€™s murder prompted some at the Justice Department to argue for less disclosure.
Burkeâ€™s information was followed by a three-day struggle in which officials in the office of the deputy attorney general, the criminal division and the ATF came up with what turned out to be an inaccurate response to Grassleyâ€™s assertions.
It is unusual for the Justice Department to provide such detail of its internal deliberations as it did on Friday with Congress.
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