Why Doesn't Rep. Issa Want Former ATF Chief Melson To Testify?

February 01, 2012 3:39 pm ET — Matt Gertz

In a letter introducing the conclusions of the Oversight Committee's Democratic staff report on Operation Fast and Furious and other gunwalking operations conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) since 2006, ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) writes:

The Committee also rejected my request to hold a public hearing with Kenneth Melson, the former Acting Director of ATF, the agency primarily responsible for these operations. Although Committee staff conducted an interview with Mr. Melson, the public has not had an opportunity to hear his explanations for why these operations continued for so many years without adequate oversight from ATF headquarters.

If Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his committee's Republicans really want to get to the bottom of why these flawed ATF operations were allowed to take place and who knew about and approved them, why wouldn't they want the ATF's former leader to testify?

Perhaps because it would give Melson a forum to publicly answer questions about one of the mysteries of the GOP's response to Fast and Furious: What were Republican congressmen told about the operation in a briefing Melson provided to them nearly two years ago, when the operation had already seen more than 1,000 firearms trafficked to Mexican drug cartels?

In June 2011, the Washington Post reported:

A chief Republican critic of a controversial U.S. anti-gun-trafficking operation was briefed on ATF's "Fast and Furious" program last year and did not express any opposition, sources familiar with the classified briefing said Tuesday.

Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), who has repeatedly called for top Justice Department officials to be held accountable for the now-defunct operation, was given highly specific information about it at an April 2010 briefing, the sources said. Members of his staff also attended the session, which Issa and two other Republican congressmen had requested.

Documents and an "official with knowledge of the meeting" who later spoke to Talking Points Memo indicate that Melson was the official who conducted the briefing.

In a statement to the Post, a spokesman for the Oversight Committee acknowledged that ATF had briefed the congressmen on "weapons smuggling by criminal cartels," but declined to discuss what Issa and his colleagues were told. The spokesman also attacked the Justice Department for making an "irresponsible and false accusation" that "Congress was in the know on the details of Fast and Furious."

In October, the same spokesman told Politico that "the briefing was broad ... my understanding is that Fast and Furious never came up by name in this briefing and certainly they had no discussion about the controversial tactics."

The Post cited a source's statement that the briefing had covered "how many guns had been bought by 'straw purchasers,' the types of guns and how much money had been spent." That is consistent with what TPM was told by their source. In fact, TPM obtained documents prepared for the briefing, which note that the straw purchasers under investigation in Fast and Furious had already purchased more than 1,300 firearms, including assault weapons.

As Political Correction has previously noted, those descriptions mirror the contents of weekly report memos to the Attorney General's office, which Issa and other Republicans have used to suggest that Attorney General Eric Holder and other senior Justice Department officials knew or should have known about the flawed techniques used in that operation.

If Melson were to appear before the committee, he would be able to testify as to what he told Issa and other Republicans about Fast and Furious. That could again expose the naked partisanship of their leadership of the Oversight Committee. Luckily for them, it seems that Melson will never have that opportunity.