Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jul 2011
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2011 The Washington Post Company
Author: Sari Horwitz


The ranking Democrat on the House committee investigating the
controversial federal gun-trafficking operation known as Fast and
Furious accused its Republican chairman on Wednesday of stifling
discussion of whether U.S. gun laws have contributed to the violence
in Mexico.

A report released Wednesday by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said
weak laws impede federal firearms agents trying to counter gun
trafficking by Mexican drug cartels. It criticizes Rep. Darrell Issa
(R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and
Government Reform, for making "efforts to wall off any discussion of
the nation's gun laws."

"Chairman Issa objected to any questions about whether the nation's
gun laws could be improved to assist these law enforcement agents in
their efforts to counter drug violence and firearms trafficking by
Mexican drug cartels," the report says.

In a statement, committee spokesman Frederick R. Hill responded: "This
is a predictable maneuver from a minority that has sought to obstruct
the investigation into Justice Department sanctioned gunwalking. It
will not affect the committee's continued focus on a reckless
operation that has been linked to deaths on both sides of the border."

Titled "Outgunned," the 26-page report recommends stronger penalties
for "straw purchasers" who illegally buy guns for others and a
reporting requirement for multiple purchases of long guns, such as
AK-47s. Cummings will hold a forum on the report Thursday on Capitol

On Wednesday, President Obama was asked at a news conference about
Fast and Furious, the year-long investigation by the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that allowed traffickers to
move hundreds of U.S. weapons into Mexico.

"As you know, my attorney general has made clear that he certainly
would not have ordered gunrunning to be able to pass through into
Mexico," Obama said. "The investigation is still pending. I'm not
going to comment on a current investigation. I've made very clear my
views that that would not be an appropriate step by ATF, and we got to
find out how that happened."

Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson, under pressure to resign over the
operation, is scheduled to testify in Congress next month.

Issa, who recently held a hearing on Fast and Furious, has called for
top Justice officials to be held accountable. Issa and Sen. Charles E.
Grassley (R-Iowa) have led the charge to uncover details about the

Cummings's report cites testimony from agents who criticized Fast and
Furious to illustrate ATF's lack of tools to combat gun

"The same law enforcement agents who were invited by Chairman Issa to
testify about ATF's Operation Fast and Furious have also warned the
Committee that they are incredibly outgunned in the fight against
international drug cartels that are trafficking tens of thousands of
military-grade assault weapons from the United States to Mexico,"
Cummings said in a later statement.

Agent Peter Forcelli, a senior ATF group supervisor in the Phoenix
field division, called the laws on straw purchases "toothless." Larry
Alt, a lawyer and senior ATF field agent, testified that "we don't get
traction with the U.S. attorney's office. They don't follow through.
They don't want to prosecute cases."

Agents also said their efforts to combat the cartels would be
strengthened with a federal statute criminalizing gun

Issa, who returned recently from Mexico City with Cummings and other
members of Congress, called Obama's remarks "disappointing."

"There was no sign of urgency to provide answers or explain why no one
at the Justice Department has accepted responsibility for authorizing
an illegal gunwalking operation six months after Border Patrol agent
Brian Terry's murder," Issa said.

While Fast and Furious targeted Mexican gun traffickers, some of the
guns involved have been linked to the killings of a U.S. Border Patrol
officer and a prominent Mexican lawyer. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.