The sound that you're hearing is the muttered "Uh-oh" of a plethora of staffers at the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives. Of particular interest is the letter that Oversight Chair Darrell Issa and Judiciary Ranking Member (for now) Chuck Grassley sent to Attorney General (for now) Eric Holder regarding Melson's testimony... but we'll get that in a moment.
For those coming in late: Issa and Grassley are investigating the horrifically botched Fast & Furious program that Justice/BATFE had put together, starting in late 2009. F&F was this ingenious method by which the federal government ended up knowingly and deliberately permitted illegally-resold firearms to be supplied to Mexican narco-terrorists; said narco-terrorists then proceeded to use those guns to shoot various hostages, Mexican civilians and police officers, at least one US Border Agent... as you can imagine, the Mexican government is not exactly pleased about any of this, which is why elements within said government are currently muttering about extradition treaties. This is where Kenneth Melson comes in: he is the Acting Director of BATFE, and was apparently picked to be the duly-assigned sacrificial lamb in this particular drama.
Only, it turns out that Melson doesn't actually believe in any of that dulce et decorum est pro Duce mori stuff; so he grabbed a lawyer and started talking to Issa & Grassley - on July 4th, no less. So now, let's talk about that letter. To summarize it:
- Melson voluntarily decided to come in himself, and not wait until a scheduled meeting next week (that, not incidentally, would have had Justice/BATFE
zampolitslawyers attending). Which was Melson's right (DoJ policy to the contrary), so shut up and sit down*.
- Melson was shocked and nauseated to discover - after the fact - that the perfectly straightforward sting operation that he was overseeing had been perverted into a policy where guns were allowed to be handed off to Mexican narco-terrorists. As soon as he discovered this, he and the rest of BATFE's leadership of course had everyone managing F&F operations reassigned.
- Melson and the rest of BATFE's leadership of course wanted to give full disclosure to Congress over this entire sorry affair. Alas, "he said Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress."
- Let's give that sentence its own bullet point. "[H]e said Justice Department officials directed them not to respond and
took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress."
- By the way, Issa & Grassley are talking to other, no-they're-not-saying-who sources who are backing up Melson's testimony. That includes intimations that BATFE was not informed of certain operations being done by the DEA & the FBI concurrently. Operations where "some of the gun trafficking "higher-ups" that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants" (italics theirs).
- Which begs the question, Did taxpayer money pay for the gun that killed US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry?
- Why, hello, Deputy Attorney General James Cole! Melson mentioned you by name! Says that you knew all about this, back you were just the acting Deputy Attorney General! Aren't you glad that Grassley stopped opposing your nomination?
- Needless to say, there's a paper trail for all of this. More importantly, Issa & Grassley knows that there's a paper trail for all of this.
- Also needless to say, Ken Melson is now considered to be a whistle-blower, which means that the Department of Justice would be well advised to think twice before administering the usual internal punishments given out to bureaucratic snitches.
- Your move, Attorney General Holder.
To say that this would be a worrisome letter to Holder is to understate matters severely. The most important nugget of information - aside from the fact that Ken Melson talked, and the administration doesn't quite know what he talked about, and at what precise level of detail - is that the bit about BATFE letting guns get sold to DEA/FBI paid informants (which is new information, as far as I know). If that is true, and if BATFE didn't know this because Justice kept them out of the loop, then there's going to be a lot of people in Justice who may want to talk to Congress without their zampolits around.
Interesting times ahead.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*It's important to understand this point: last month's agreement to have Melson testify did not have as its terms that Melson would come in with his own lawyer and nobody from the administration to 'advise' him. The Issa/Grassley letter noted that the original meeting was supposed to take place July 13th. This development is a surprise to the Department of Justice, in other words. Probably a very unpleasant one, too.