WASHINGTON – Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) called on Congress to probe the existence of a government operation that allegedly allowed hundreds of weapons to enter Mexico illegally during George W. Bush’s presidency.
Citing Justice Department sources, CBS News reported on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms gun-running probe known as “Operation Wide Receiver” that was launched in 2006 and 2007 and which purportedly allowed firearms to be sold to known straw purchasers in and around Tucson, Arizona.
The revelation comes amid the fallout from another botched ATF operation, “Fast and Furious,” under which some 2,000 weapons were allowed to “walk” into Mexico between 2009 and 2010.
Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a written statement that the Bush-era program merits an investigation.
“(W)hether it’s Operation Fast and Furious, Operation Wide Receiver, or both, it’s clear that guns were walked, and people high in the Justice Department knew about it,” Grassley, one of the chief Fast and Furious investigators in Congress, said.
“There’s no excuse for walking guns, and if there are more operations like this, Congress and the American people need to know,” he said.
The idea behind Fast and Furious was to trace the weapons to powerful drug traffickers in Mexico, but once it got underway ATF agents realized they had no dependable way to keep track of the guns, which eventually began appearing at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
Mexican authorities have said that some of the weapons appeared at around 170 crime scenes in that country. Two assault rifles linked to Fast and Furious were recovered at the location where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed last December in southern Arizona.
The ATF devised the sting due to criticism that its operations honed in on gun runners with lesser criminal histories rather going after the cartel kingpins behind the weapons purchases.
A congressional probe led by Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.) has focused on the Obama Justice Department’s knowledge of Fast and Furious, with Attorney General Eric Holder telling a House committee in May that he had learned about the botched operation “over the last few weeks.”
CBS News, however, citing several Justice Department e-mails from 2010 that were turned over to Congress, said Holder began receiving memos on the operation as far back as July of last year.
Justice Department officials, meanwhile, have told the media that Holder periodically is briefed on multiple investigations throughout the United States and that the reports he received on Fast and Furious in July 2010 did not explicitly state that ATF agents were letting guns “walk” into Mexico via illegal sales to straw purchasers.
As part of their probe into Fast and Furious, U.S. prosecutors have brought charges against a score of people, although none is suspected of drug trafficking.
In the case of Operation Wide Receiver, nine people have been charged with making false statements in the purchase of firearms destined for shipment to Mexico.
Turf battles among drug cartels and clashes between mobsters and security forces have left more than 40,000 dead in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006.
Calderon says the United States is responsible in large part for the violence because of the high demand for illegal drugs there and the cross-border flow of weapons to the violent cartels. EFE