Eleven new violent crimes involving guns bought under the controversial Fast and Furious weapon-running scheme have been identified by the Justice Department.
And Kenneth Melson, the acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF) likely knew about the program more than a year earlier than he has previously acknowledged, assistant attorney general Ronald Weich told two leading senators.
The new revelations, reported by the Los Angeles Times,
are sure to reignite the controversy surrounding the operation in which ATF officers were told not to intercept semi-automatic weapons that they knew would end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartel leaders.
The plan was to trace the guns which would then lead them to the drug kingpins. But the agency lost track of most of the weapons, two of which were recovered at the scene where U.S. border agent Brian Terry was murdered in Arizona. U.S. immigration officer Jaime Zapata was also killed by one of the weapons while working in Mexico.
In a letter to Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the two leading members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Weich said that 1,418 weapons were involved in Fast and Furious. Previous estimates had put the figure at around 2,000. Weich did not say exactly how many were still unaccounted for.
But he said that the department now knows of 11 instances beyond Terry’s killing, where a Fast and Furious weapon “was recovered in connection with a crime of violence in the United States.”
The Times says 40 of the firearms were recovered at one crime scene in El Paso, Texas, and 17 more at five other scenes in Arizona.
The new revelations intensify the war of words between Melson and the Justice Department under attorney general Eric Holder.
Weich said Melson “likely became aware of” Fast and Furious on December 9, 2009, as part of a briefing following a seizure of weapons in Douglas, Ariz. Melson had said he did not know about it until January this year.
Early this summer, when Melson was under pressure to resign, he took the extraordinary step of giving a secret deposition in which he claimed the DoJ was pressuring his agency into not cooperating with Congress’s investigation into the program.
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