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Justice turns over more ATF documents to congressional investigators-- rekindling debate

By Terry Frieden, CNN
updated 7:53 PM EST, Thu January 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justice Department hands over documents on guns-to-Mexico operation
  • The operation featured a flawed sting
  • Two missing weapons were found at the site of a killed U.S. agent

Washington (CNN) -- The Justice Department Thursday turned over to congressional investigators 482 pages of subpoenaed internal documents in the latest chapter of the controversial guns-to-Mexico operation known as Fast and Furious.

That operation featured a flawed sting, which started in 2009 and allowed illegally purchased firearms to make their way from gun stores in Arizona across the border to Mexican drug cartels. The intent of the operation was to monitor the flow of the weapons to their ultimate destination.

However, hundreds of weapons were lost or unaccounted for, and a storm of outrage erupted when two of the missing weapons were found at a site where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.

Criticism was heaped on the ATF and its parent agency, the Department of Justice.

In the most recent development, the Justice Department released documents on a similar ATF operation known as Wide Receiver, which occurred in 2006 and 2007 while the Bush Administration oversaw the ATF.

A senior current Justice Department official said the documents show officials knew that guns had been allowed "to walk" to Mexico, just as they did later, in Operation Fast and Furious.

"We already have enough for the (conspiracy) and (false statement in purchase of a firearm) charges, but we want the manufacturing and distribution pieces also--we want it all," an unidentified ATF agent said in one document. No arrests were made, and the operation continued.

The latest documents did not satisfy Republican critics.

"It is deeply discouraging that top Justice officials knew such details about problems in Operation Wide Receiver yet were still so quick to dismiss warnings from whistleblowers and reckless and dangerous tactics happening on a much larger scale in Operation Fast and Furious," said Congressman Darrell Issa, R-California.

"The documents dumped today by the Justice Department prove that this administration knew that guns were walked in Operation Wide Receiver, yet did nothing about it even as it was happening again in Fast and Furious," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

The smoldering debate is expected to be re-ignited on February 2, when Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee, whose chairman is Issa.

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