Exclusive: ATF Director’s ‘Eyes Nearly Popped Out of (His) Head’ When he Learned ATF Might Have Been Selling Guns to FBI in ‘Fast and Furious’

By Eliza

Jul 18, 2011 3:01pm

ap kenneth melson atf ll 110620 xwide Exclusive: ATF Director’s Eyes Nearly Popped Out of (His) Head When he Learned ATF Might Have Been Selling Guns to FBI in Fast and Furious

Interviewed by congressional investigators earlier this month, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Ken Melson agreed that the allegations that federal agencies weren’t sharing information regarding the Fast & Furious program were “eye-popping,” according to transcripts of the interview exclusively obtained by ABC News.

In the controversial Fast & Furious program, the ATF trafficked assault weapons across the Mexican border in order to try to locate criminals. But many of the guns have since shown up at crime scenes in the US, and one theory investigators are exploring is that the ATF agents were unknowingly selling weapons to straw purchasers created by the FBI using informants and maybe even taxpayer money.

Melson was asked about this – politely called an “interagency communication issue” — when he testified behind closed doors to congressional investigators over 4th of July weekend. In the below excerpt from that testimony, Melson describes a conversation with the deputy attorney general (DAG) Jim Cole on July 16, the day after the ATF hearing on the Hill. “IG” is a reference to the inspector general who is investigating the Fast & Furious case internally at the Justice Department.

Below is the relevant exchange:

Q: Do you have any concerns that because you raised the interagency communication issue with the DAG and also with the IG that you might be viewed as speaking out of turn. 

MELSON: Well, I guess I have — I have got concerns about talking with you about it, as well as pushing it as I have in the Department, because it could be a very sensitive issue.  I don't know.  Better communication with them would have helped me understand how sensitive it is, if it is, or what the ramifications of its disclosure is. I mentioned it to the DAG's office in good faith to try and avoid further damage to the Department or the government if this thing is as you have laid it out and it unravels and the American public sees ATF investigating straw purchasers and another agency working the money angle and the ordering of the weapons.  I mean, that would make us look pretty silly, I think.  So my mention of it to the DAG's office was simply to let them know, to give them a head's up so if this was occurring, they could figure out what to do with it.  And we weren't getting any responses.  I'm still concerned about it.  I'm still concerned about not just what was done, but what could be ongoing as well.

Q: When I first heard about the information sharing issues, my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

MELSON: Well, so did mine.

Q: I'm curious when you communicated that to the DAG, did his eyes pop out of his head, did he think this was a big problem.

MELSON: I can't tell you what he thought or how he thought.  But he simply said, "We will have to look into it."

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler writes that, “Any notion that the Department has failed to cooperate with the investigation is simply not based in fact.  These allegations serve only to distract from the concerns raised by ATF agents that the Committee and the Department’s Inspector General are investigating and ignore the substantial efforts by the Department regarding this investigation, including providing various staff briefings, testimony from officials, interviews with employees and thousands of pages of documents, to the Committee.  The Department, like the Committee, is interested in determining whether Operation Fast and Furious was appropriately handled and that is why the Attorney General, several months ago, asked the IG to investigate the concerns raised by ATF agents.”

-Jake Tapper

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