The memo, written in early February by Agent Gary Styers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, appears to corroborate allegations made a few weeks earlier by whistleblower ATF Agent John Dodson about the gun-running probe. It also conflicts with a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich to Congress, in which he insisted, “The allegation … that ATF ‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons … is false.”
The gun-monitoring program known as “Operation Fast and Furious” was supposed to build a case against Mexican drug lords and organized crime syndicates. At least 2,000 guns went missing during the operation, which began in 2009. Dozens of those weapons were trafficked along the US-Mexico border and some guns were used in violent crimes in Mexico. One weapon has been linked to the murder of a US immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
Styers’ memo to top ATF officials was dated Feb. 3, a day before Weich told Congress on Feb. 4 that Dodson’s claims were false. Styers explained that “Fast and Furious” “divided and isolated agents,” and the agent in charge called off surveillance. He detailed one instance in which agents monitoring a firearms transaction at a gas station were told they were too close to the scene — while they repositioned, the buyer left the area without agents following. “It is unheard of to have an active wiretap investigation without full time dedicated surveillance units on the ground,” he wrote. Styers wrote that his advice, and the advice of other agents, was “widely disregarded.”
The memo was meant to describe conversations Styers had with staff for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) after the senator’s staff contacted him with questions about “Fast and Furious.” And it presents a starkly different portrait of the probe than that portrayed by the Feb. 4 letter from Weich — that letter is at the center of the controversy on Capitol Hill. And while Attorney General Eric Holder now admits Weich’s letter was inaccurate, many in Congress feel deliberately misled.
Holder is accused of knowing from multiple sources that “Operation Fast and Furious” deliberately allowed guns to go to Mexico, and that some of those guns had been linked to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry the previous December.
It is unclear whether any of the top brass at Justice saw the Styers memo. Asked about the memo, Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler inferred that Holder’s November testimony on Capitol Hill, where he said he only learned of the operation a “couple of months” before a May hearing where he testified on the matter.
Grassley has demanded to know who at Justice approved the Weich letter before it was sent out. So far, Justice has failed to comply.
Holder will be grilled on Fast and Furious next week by the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. They are likely to bring up the memo from Styers which quickly made its way to Washington in February.