DOJ's Breuer authorized wiretap in ATF Fast and Furious case

CBS

CBS

Updated: May 4, 2011, 6:37pm

Congressional investigators have just released documents in the so-called gunwalking scandal at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). This in advance of a Senate hearing in which Attorney General Eric Holder will testify.

One document indicates a Holder Asst. Attorney General, Lanny Breuer, authorized a wiretap in the controversial gun trafficking case headquartered in Phoenix. In that case, called "Fast and Furious," multiple sources say ATF allowed thousands of guns to hit the streets, destined for Mexican drug cartels.

Yesterday, at a House hearing, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) asked

Holder who authorized Fast and Furious. President Obama has previously said neither he nor Holder authorized the operation.

"What about the Asst. Attorney General of the Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer? Did he authorize it?" Issa asked Holder.

"I'm not sure," answered Holder.

Another newly-released document is an ATF Briefing Paper dated Jan. 8, 2010, just four months into Fast and Furious -  which continued for over a year. It indicates that ATF knew early on that so-called "straw purchasers" who bought guns for personal use were illegally transferring them to third parties, and that some of the guns were already showing up in Mexico.

Gunrunner scandal uncovered at the ATF

Critics say this counters claims of ATF and Dept. of Justice officials who have recently argued nobody was intentionally letting guns "walk," that there was simply no evidence to stop people who legally purchased guns.

The Briefing Paper says more gun purchases were to be allowed and "monitored."

The practice of law enforcement allowing guns to hit the streets is known as letting guns "walk." Critics say it's a dangerous practice that is virtually unprecedented in law enforcement because it's deemed too dangerous to ever be allowed, even for a larger goal.

Agent: I was ordered to let U.S. guns into Mexico

The ATF Briefing Paper also states that Arizona US Attorney Burke was in "full agreement with the current investigative strategy."

In response to the controversy, Holder issued directives to US Attorneys in recent weeks making it clear that guns should never be allowed to "walk" even if intercepting them jeopardizes a bigger investigation.

Late today, the Department of Justice sent this statement about our story:

"The review process for wiretap applications is a narrow assessment of whether a legal basis exists to support a surveillance request that ultimately goes before a judge for decision. These reviews are not approval of the underlying investigations or operations. As the department has stated, the Fast and Furious operation was approved by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and the ATF Phoenix Field Office. The investigation was subsequently approved by the multi-agency Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Program.

The Attorney General takes the allegations that have been raised seriously, which is why he has asked the Inspector General to investigate and made clear to everyone in the Department that under no circumstances should guns be allowed to cross the border."


  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

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

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