ATF head talks "gunwalking" to investigators

ATF logo over US Capitol Dome
ATF logo over US Capitol Dome CBS/AP

ATF's acting director has told Congressional investigators his agency made mistakes in its "Fast and Furious" operation which allowed thousands of American guns to be delivered across the Mexican border into the hands of the drug cartels according to two members of Congress who have investigated the matter.

Accompanied by his personal attorney, the embattled Kenneth Melson met with both Republican and Democratic staffers for an on the record debriefing. He reportedly told the staffers he was prompted to do so because of his growing concern that he would soon be fired by the Department of Justice, which he said had not allowed him to communicate with Congress.

ATF gunwalking: Who knew, and how high up?

Melson told investigators he did not know the full story of the "Fast and Furious" operation until he began looking into it after the controversy became public. This appears contrary to internal ATF emails uncovered by CBS News.

One of those emails, written by a Phoenix-based Assistant Special Agent in Charge reported that Melson was "briefed weekly" on the investigation and was "keenly interested in case updates."

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

A second email, from the Supervisor of the Phoenix Gun Trafficking Group responding to "what I understand the Director's questions to be", provided the actual IP address for surveillance cameras so that they could be monitored from a standalone computer at ATF headquarters.

Perhaps more troubling according to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is that Melson's responses "tended to corroborate" allegations by some ATF agents that DEA and FBI were already watching some of the very same suspects that ATF's "Fast and Furious" was attempting to identify, and that some of those suspects may have been paid informants for those agencies.

If true, the allegation raises serious questions for the Department of Justice, which oversees all three agencies and has so far denied knowledge that guns were being "walked" across the border in an effort to make cases against the big cartels.

In a letter to DOJ, Grassley and Issa wrote: "The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities."