(WASHINGTON) -- Ken Melson, the man who oversaw the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during the controversial “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking operation is leaving ATF and returning to Justice Department headquarters.
Two other top officials involved in the “Fast and Furious” operation resigned or were reassigned, the department announced Tuesday.
Melson headed the ATF when the bureau ran the botched gun-running investigation in Arizona. The program -- allegedly meant to track illegal gun sales -- actually allowed hundreds of assault rifles and other weapons to be illegally sent to Mexico, with some firearms going to drug cartels. Guns from the program have also been traced to a series of crimes in Arizona -- including the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
The Department also announced Tuesday that Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona where operation Fast and Furious was overseen, was resigning. Additionally, the assistant U.S. attorney who helped run the program, Emory Hurley, has been reassigned from working on criminal cases and will now work in the civil division at the Arizona U.S. attorney’s office.
Under “Fast and Furious,” ATF agents recorded and tracked straw purchases of weapons and allowed the guns to “walk” across the U.S. border into Mexico in an effort to locate major weapons traffickers, rather than catching the low-level buyers. The operation took a tragic toll when two weapons found on the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered were linked to the ATF program. The bloodshed didn't end there: the thousands of assault rifles and pistols -- which were completely operational and deliberately allowed to get into criminals' hands -- have been linked to 11 other violent crimes as part of the seemingly endless, and increasingly bloody, drug cartel violence over the border. Some of the 2,500 weapons included dozens of the fearsome, military-grade Barrett .50 sniper rifle, so powerful it can kill at 2,000 meters, or even severely damage airplanes in flight.
A Congressional investigation into the program has revealed numerous shortcomings and poor oversight of the program, which was overseen by the ATF field office in Phoenix and the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona.
According to administration officials, Attorney General Eric Holder pushed for the personnel moves to provide stable leadership at ATF. Holder claims he has pushed for the department’s inspector general to review the “Fast and Furious” program, but the status of that review is unknown.
U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has lead the charge into the investigation of Fast & Furious. Rep. Issa has claimed Holder is "stonewalling" the inquiry. President Obama has denied he knew of the operation. Of this, Issa has said, "President Obama has been keen to talk about who didn’t know about the program and who didn’t authorize it. These answers will not suffice. The American people have a right to know, once and for all, who did authorize it and who knew about it."
Last month, appearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the former head of the ATF’s Phoenix office admitted that mistakes were made in the controversial gun trafficking operation. William Newell, the ATF agent who helped oversee the operation told the committee, “I recognize that in retrospect there were mistakes made in how we handled this investigation.”
The committee has requested numerous documents and testimony from ATF agents and Department of Justice officials as they looked into the operation.
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