Cover-up in ATF gunwalker case?

Tuesday: The aftermath of Irene has completely cut off 13 towns in Vermont, leaving them without water and no way to escape; Also, unable to distance themselves from the Gunwalker scandal, top ATF officials are being removed from their positions; And, CBS News obtained newly-released footage documenting FEMA's rescue efforts after 9/11.

Congressional investigators tell CBS News there's evidence the U.S. Attorney's office in Arizona sought to cover up a link between their controversial gunwalking operation known as "Fast and Furious" and the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Terry was murdered in Arizona near the US border last December. Two assault rifles ATF had allegedly allowed onto the street without interdiction were found at the scene.

But the US Attorney's office working both the Terry murder and the "Fast and Furious" operation did not immediately disclose the two had any link. Two Republicans investigating the scandal, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) say there's evidence that officials at ATF and the US Attorney's office sought to hide the connection.

In a letter, Grassley and Issa say the lead prosecutor on Fast and Furious, Assistant US Attorney Emory Hurley, learned almost immediately that guns allowed onto the street in his case, had been recovered at Terry's murder. "(I)n the hours after Agent Terry's death," says the letter from Grassley and Issa, Hurley apparently "contemplated the connection between the two cases and sought to prevent the connection from being disclosed." The Justice Department recently transferred Hurley out of the criminal division into the civil division.

An internal ATF email dated the day after Terry's death reveals the quick decision to not disclose the source of the weapons found at the murder scene: "... this way we do not divulge our current case (Fast and Furious) or the Border Patrol shooting case."

Another ATF email indicates that the justification both offices used to not charge the suspect with crimes related to the murder scene "was to not 'complicate' the FBI's investigation."

ATF whistleblowers revealed the link between the two cases to Congressional investigators and CBS News, saying their supervisors were attempting to cover it up.

Today's letter from the Congressional Republicans also criticizes Hurley's boss, US Attorney Dennis Burke. It says Burke denied a connection between Fast and Furious and Terry's murder in court, but recently "readily admitted the connection" in an interview with Congressional investigators. Burke resigned from his job on Tuesday.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment. Burke and Hurley were not immediately reachable for comment.

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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