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Issa: Dems trying to obstruct "gunwalking" probe

In riveting testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday, one federal agent stated simply, "Someone was going to die."

And a federal agent did - from guns supplied in the so-called "gunwalking" scandal that CBS News first reported.

Those hearings, involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), were to resume Wednesday.

CBS News Investigative Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson - who broke the story in February - reported on "The Early Show" Wednesday that three sitting ATF special agents who helped blow the whistle on the controversial operation were slated to be the first to testify at Wednesday's session.

Congress starting ATF "gunwalker scandal" probe

It's been three months since ATF Special Agent John Dodson first told CBS News that his own agency let thousands of weapons "walk" onto the streets - many of those guns made their way into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Dodson told CBS News, "I'm boots on the ground in Phoenix telling ya we've been doing it every day since I've been here. Here I am. Tell me I didn't do the things that I did. Tell me you didn't order me to do the things I did. Tell me it didn't happen. Now you have a name on it, you have a face to put with it. Here I am. Someone now - tell me it didn't happen."

Since then, Congressional investigators have interviewed Dodson and other ATF agents and Phoenix-area gun dealers - who claim ATF urged them to sell to suspicious characters - a strategy apparently aimed to get at cartel kingpins behind the escalating drug violence in Mexico.

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U.S. security expert Mike Balboni told CBS News, "The people you want to get to are the people who are able to coordinate and finance these types of operations. They're the folks who will stay around. If you take them, you really, it's basically, you want to take out a terror agency? Strike at the head of the snake."

Whatever the intentions, many insiders claim the gun-walking was wildly dangerous and irresponsible.

Last night, congressional investigators released a lengthy narrative of the allegations, pulling from documents and testimony collected behind closed doors since the first CBS News first report.

The congressional report claims there was a "shift in strategy" in the fall of 2009 that led to the gun-walking and "was known and authorized at the highest levels of the Justice Department."

CBS News has learned that one ATF official told investigators the direction came in a memo issued by then Deputy Attorney General David Ogden. But Ogden told CBS News his memo made no specific mention of gun-walking, and that he didn't advocate or know about it. Ogden left the Department of Justice in February of last year, just a few months into the controversial operation.

President Obama has said neither he nor his top Justice Department official approved it, either.

Mr. Obama said, "Well, first of all, I did not authorize it. Uh, Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it. There may be a situation here (in) which a serious mistake was made, and if that's the case, then we'll find out and we'll hold somebody accountable."

The congressional report states that, less than two months into the operation, agents "believed there was already enough information to arrest the ... purchasers, try to flip them, and begin working up the chain with an eye toward the 'bigger fish' in the cartels."

But instead, Attkisson reported, ATF allowed suspects to continue buying and transferring assault weapons - sometimes 40 at a time - for more than a year. All the while, ATF collected reports of the guns turning up at cartel crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S.

On "The Early Show" Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is holding the hearing in this case, called the ATF operation a "failed program from the planning on."

Issa said the Department of Justice (DOJ) and ATF have not been forthcoming about the case, until very recently.

"They've really stonewalled this," he said. "They used the minority (members of) the committee to try to obstruct it. What's beginning to happen is somebody must have figured out this investigation can't end until, at the highest level, including the president, they say, 'This is not a may-have-been. ... This is a bad practice,' and this has to, we have to have assurances this will never happen again."

Co-anchor Erica Hill noted that the DOJ and ATF are expressing concern that, if they disclose certain information, it could perhaps compromise other investigations, specifically perhaps even the trial of the trafficker accused of buying guns, which were found at the sight of the killing of border patrol agent Brian Terry.

On Monday, Rep. Elijah Cummings wrote to Issa saying that the committee should pursue its investigation in a responsible way that does not compromise DOJ's criminal investigation.

But Issa said the letter shows how the Democrats are trying to obstruct the investigation on behalf of the president and his administration.

Issa said, "They may not realize how absurd it is to say that we're obstructing. Understand, a man was killed, Brian Terry. He was killed with guns that were, in fact, supplied by the government. That doesn't change the trial of the murder. The trial of the murder will have no bearing. It doesn't matter where he got the gun from. He's a murderer."

Issa continued, "What we have to ask is why is it the president says something may have gone wrong, and months go by and they're not saying somebody at the highest levels, the levels in which this was funded, coordinated and authorized; nobody has lost their job. There's been no looking at Justice. There's only been pushing it down and saying, 'Well, you know, this was a rogue operation.' It wasn't a rogue operation. The people they want to accuse of being rogues are the people who came forward including today's witnesses, who are going to say this was wrong and we've got the proof we kept saying it was wrong, while the (authorities) kept pushing this investigation."

Hill asked if Issa ultimately wants "heads to roll" following an investigation.

She said, "You want someone to take responsibility, is that correct?"

Issa said the Terry's family deserves a full understanding of how their family member was killed.

He added, "Beyond that, what we need to know, and they need to know is that this won't happen again. If there's been judgment this bad, this obviously bad - this is beyond Iran-Contra stupid - because they didn't even have a safeguard planned in this. If they do not say, 'These people had this bad judgment, they no longer work in an area in which they can apply that kind of bad judgment,' then no, we can't let go."

"This is one of those opportunities for the administration to lead and say, 'Look, we're going to get anyone who is involved in authorizing this, if their judgment is involved ' - which it would have been and it was bad judgment, 'they can't do this job anymore,"' Issa said. "That's all we're asking. We're asking to make sure this doesn't happen again and (Terry's) family deserves that, too."