"What, me Gunwalker?"
Over the Fourth of July weekend earlier this year, Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson came in for a voluntary interview with staff members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He brought his own lawyer. On 5 July, Senator Charles Grassley sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. This is how he characterized Melson's testimony:
Yesterday, Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson participated in a transcribed interview regarding Operation Fast and Furious and related matters with both Republican and Democratic staff. He appeared with his personal counsel, Richard Cullen of McGuire Woods LLP. His interview had originally been scheduled through the Justice Department to occur on July 13 in the presence of DOJ and ATF counsel. As you know, however, under our agreement Department witnesses who choose to attend a voluntary interview with their own lawyer are free to exercise that right rather than participate with counsel representing the Department's interests.
After being made aware of that provision of our agreement, Acting Director Melson chose to exercise that right and appeared with his own lawyer. We are disappointed that no one had previously informed him of that provision of the agreement. Instead, Justice Department officials sought to limit and control his communications with Congress. This is yet another example of why direct communications with Congress are so important and are protected by law.
Acting Director Melson's cooperation was extremely helpful to our investigation. He was candid in admitting mistakes that his agency made and described various ways he says that he tried to remedy the problems. According to Mr. Melson, it was not until after the public controversy that he personally reviewed hundreds of documents relating to the case, including wiretap applications and Reports of Investigation (ROIs). By his account, he was sick to his stomach when he obtained those documents and learned the full story. Mr. Melson said that he told the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) at the end of March that the Department needed to reexamine how it was responding to the requests for information from Congress.
According to Mr. Melson, he and ATF's senior leadership team moved to reassign every manager involved in Fast and Furious, from the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations down to the Group Supervisor, after learning the facts in those documents. Mr. Melson also said he was not allowed to communicate to Congress the reasons for the reassignments. He claimed that ATF's senior leadership would have preferred to be more cooperative with our inquiry much earlier in the process.
However, he said that Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress. The result is that Congress only got the parts of the story that the Department wanted us to hear. If his account is accurate, then ATF leadership appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand.
"Effectively muzzled." Hmmm.
Recall that US Attorney Dennis Burke was a hardliner in his input to the DOJ on the response letter to Senator Grassley that has now been "withdrawn."
Among his comments:
Over the course of the letter being prepared, Burke vehemently argued the department should more vigorously deny the allegations.
“What is so offensive about this whole project is that Grassley’s staff, acting as willing stooges for the Gun Lobby, have attempted to distract from the incredible success in dismantling [southwest border] gun trafficking operations ... but, instead, lobbing this reckless despicable accusation that ATF is complicit in the murder of a fellow federal law enforcement officer,” he wrote in a Feb. 4 email.
“Well said Dennis. Thank you!” Hoover replied.
However, guns found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder were eventually connected to the Fast and Furious operation.
Burke's anti-gun mindset.“No commentary by Grassley on the lax laws, nor greedy gun shop owners, nor careless straw purchasers, and not boo about the evil gun traffickers for the Cartels. Nope. Just demonize ATF w/ a strategically-timed repulsive letter e-mailed to the entire press world before we ever saw it,” Burke wrote.
Discussing the Department’s response to a letter that Grassley sent to the agency concerning the allegation that a gun from the ATF was used to kill Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, Burke continued: “I sat there during the press conference on this case wondering how the Gun Lobby would counter the American public’ (sic) exposure to the legality of people buying 20-30 AK-47s during one purchase [with] no reporting requirement. Well, they figured out [their] counter. Never crossed my [mind] they would stoop this low — and now we are playing defense [with] this low-tone response.”
Now we find out, thanks to an email provided to Sipsey Street, that Billy Hoover wasn't the only ATF manager who thanked Dennis Burke for his hardline approach to the Grassley letter.
From: Melson, Kenneth E.
To: Burke, Dennis (USAAZ)
Sent: 2/3/2011 7:51:58 PM
Dennis: I just got back from the Interpol meeting and wanted to thank you for your help on the Grassley response and for your work on Fast and Furious. Ken
Here is the image of that email:
This email is proof that if Melson ever was "sick to his stomach" as he claimed to the Issa and Grassley investigators, then he must have found the Phenergan pretty quickly.
This Melson email to Burke shoots his "What, me Gunwalker?" defense in the head.
It is obvious that the Committee has some more questions -- hard questions -- to ask Kenneth E. Melson. The principal question for the rest of us onlookers is, who is playing whom?
Blows of truth against the Empire.