Rep. James Lankford says Congress needs to find answers regarding federal gun sting operation

A member of the House committee that has been probing Fast and Furious, Lankford also doubts Attorney General Eric Holder's claim that he only learned of operation earlier this year
BY CHRIS CASTEEL ccasteel@opubco.com Modified: October 9, 2011 at 12:22 am •  Published: October 9, 2011
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— Congress should press its investigation of a federal gun trafficking operation until the public gets the answers to basic questions about its genesis and purpose, Rep. James Lankford said.

Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, a member of the House committee that has been probing the Fast and Furious operation, also said he is convinced U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder knew more about the operation than he has acknowledged to Congress.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, along with Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, have been pushing for answers since early this year, after guns linked to the Phoenix-based operation were used to kill U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have told congressional investigators that they were instructed not to intercept guns bought by “straw purchasers,'' even when they knew the guns likely were intended for Mexican drug cartels. Straw purchasers are people who can legally buy the guns and do so for people who cannot.

Training contradiction

Allowing guns to “walk,'' according to the agents, directly contradicted their training and traditional techniques.

ATF agent John Dodson, who was removed from the operation after complaining about the strategy and became, according to the House committee, the first whistle-blower, told lawmakers that it was acceptable to allow a straw purchaser to buy a gun and then to follow him to a gang or stash house.

But, he said, “You don't get to go home. You get the gun, is my understanding, what I have been taught.”

In an interview, Lankford said, “I'm not sure that we've connected yet that there was a violation of the law. There were a lot of violations of common sense and of normal investigative practice.

“I've talked to a lot of law enforcement folks, including FBI in Oklahoma City, and all of them are saying, ‘You never do that. … Never allow what you know is a straw purchaser to walk with a gun.' They wouldn't do that with a bag of marijuana, much less with a .50-caliber rifle.”

Conspiracy case

According to a report compiled in June by the House committee, the purpose of the operation was to link individual straw purchasers to a gun trafficking network and build a conspiracy case, rather than charging each purchaser with crimes that had relatively mild penalties.

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