Congressional investigators see pattern of 'slow walking the truth' with Libya embassy attack, ATF gun scandal
Why It Matters:
President Obama promised unprecedented transparency in his administration, but from Libya to Fast and Furious there is growing evidence the administration hasn't lived up to the promise in its early account of controversies. The newest evidence suggests the administration failed to seize an opportunity months earlier to correct the record in the gun-running scandal known as Fast and Furious.
UPDATED 9:28 AM EDT, October 30, 2012 | BY John Solomon
The former head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told congressional investigators he discovered the Obama administration's original account to Congress about the Fast and Furious gun scandal was inaccurate as early as March 2011 and urged the Justice Department to correct the record, an action that did not formally occur until eight months later.
The full testimony from retired Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson has not yet been officially released by Congress. But excerpts were obtained by the Washington Guardian as House and Senate investigators this week issued their second report into the gun-running scandal that has become an embarrassment for the administration and prompted a court fight over executive privilege.
At issue is the Obama administration’s initial account when the Fast and Furious scandal broke in February 2011 that ATF agents never knowingly let semiautomatic weapons fall into the hands of smugglers for the Mexican drug cartels. Senior officials held that position in varying forms for months as the scandal grew, but then reversed course last December in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.
Melson’s testimony – during a private deposition with congressional investigators – suggests the administration knew as early as March 2011 that its account was wrong and could have corrected it months earlier than it did.
“I drafted an e-mail to our people, and said, you know, you better back off, you better back off this statement,” Melson testified, recalling what he did in late March 2011 after reading files from the case that contradicted the administration’s official explanation. Melson alerted the U.S. attorney in Phoenix of his concerns, sent an email to his ATF subordinates entitled "Hold the presses" and another to the deputy attorney general's office after making the discovery, according to evidence separately gathered by the Justice Department's inspector general.
But despite those emails, Justice with Melson's blessing sent a second letter to Congress a month later again falsely reasserting no gun had been allowed to walk in the Arizona invetsigation known as Fast and Furious.
Congressional investigators also have learned of a second warning a few months later in August in which senior Justice officials were alerted their assertions were wrong.
The former ATF chief’s account likely will bolster Republican arguments that the administration has repeatedly slow walked the truth when faced with controversies such as the gun-running scandal, the BP oil spill in the Gulf or the recent terror attack on the U.S consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
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