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Justice sends more 'Fast and Furious' documents to Congress

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 10:26 PM EST, Fri January 27, 2012
The intent of the operation was to monitor the flow of the weapons to their ultimate destination.
The intent of the operation was to monitor the flow of the weapons to their ultimate destination.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justice department sends documents to Congress
  • They concern the flawed "Fast and Furious" operation
  • Hundreds of weapons were lost or unaccounted for

Washington (CNN) -- The Justice Department on Friday night provided Congress with a new batch of Operation Fast and Furious documents from early 2011.

They show a top Justice Department official and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives acting director suggested illegally purchased weapons be allowed to cross into Mexico where Mexican officials would be waiting to arrest, prosecute and convict the gun traffickers.

Justice also sent a letter to Capitol Hill leaders providing details of a series of reforms made by the Justice Department and ATF to ensure there is no repeat of the controversial operation which allowed hundreds of illegal weapons to be sold in the United States and trafficked into Mexico.

The intent of the operation was to monitor the flow of the weapons to their ultimate destination. The ATF plan was to track the weapons to Mexican drug cartels. However, hundreds of weapons were lost or unaccounted for.

The Justice documents include an e-mail from a U.S. official in the Mexican Embassy which shows that in a meeting in early 2011 U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer suggested the illegal weapons could be intercepted if the two nations worked together. Then acting ATF chief Ken Melson made similar suggestions.

Breuer "suggested allowing straw purchasers cross into Mexico so (Mexican federal police) can arrest and (the Mexican attorney general's office] can prosecute and convict."

The e-mail author, a Justice official stationed at the embassy, said he thought that was risky because Mexico might not seize the weapons and a crime could be committed.

The Justice officials were in Mexico City to coordinate with that nation's authorities after the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry near the Mexican border. Two illegally purchased weapons which were lost in Mexico were discovered at the crime scene where Terry was slain.

The controversy is the subject of a hearing set for next Thursday. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify before the House Investigations Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California).

Holder is likely to stress the changes and reforms that have been made since the flawed operation occurred.

In the letter to key congressional leaders Friday, the Justice Department said ATF policy now says it may be necessary to interdict illegal weapons early to ensure the safety of the public.

The Justice Department also revealed that undercover operations have to be reviewed by an internal committee if they involve "sensitive circumstances."

The letter to Congress also says ATF agents are undergoing special training "based on the lessons" of Fast and Furious.

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