In a secret deposition on the Fourth of July, the embattled head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed to congressional investigators new potential lapses in a bungled U.S. gun-trafficking sting that has stirred controversy on both sides of the Mexican border, lawmakers disclosed Wednesday.
In echoes of the law-enforcement failures that preceded the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson told the investigators Monday that the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration kept his agency “in the dark” about information they possessed that could have impacted a 15-month sting that was supposed to target Mexican cartel gun trafficking.
Melson also told investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that his bosses at the Justice Department have kept ATF from telling Congress the whole story about the bungled case.
“ATF leadership appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand. That approach distorted the truth and obstructed our investigation,” Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that was made public Wednesday.
Melson said even he didn’t know about the specific orders to let straw buyers walk off with guns until after the controversy erupted.