ATF Chief Testifies Before Congress in Secret Over Controversial Gun Program

ABC's Jason Ryan ( @JasonRyanABC) reports: The acting head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire Arms agency, facing scrutiny over a controversial gun program across the U.S. - Mexico border linked to the death of a Border Patrol agent last year, appeared secretly before Congressional investigators on July 4 with his own private attorney, rather than lawyers from the Justice Department. According to sources close to the investigation, ATF Acting Direction Ken Melson had previously wanted to testify before the oversight committees but Justice Department officials sought to delay his testimony. Melson’s testimony came weeks after three current ATF agents who were involved in the program known as “Fast and Furious” testified before Congress about the botched operation and how ATF failed to stop guns going into Mexico. The program allowed straw purchases of weapons that were then allowed to “walk” across the border into Mexico in an effort to locate major weapons traffickers. But when Border Agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010 and two guns were found on the scene that were linked to the program, it came to a halt and was brought under Congressional investigation. According to reports by the ABC affiliate in Phoenix, other guns from the Fast and Furious program have now also been linked to additional crimes. According to a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder by Rep Darrel Issa, R-CA and Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who have been investigating the Fast and Furious program, Melson expressed dismay during testimony over how the operation was run and that “he was sick to his stomach” when he reviewed internal documents.” The letter also notes that Melson’s testimony corroborated information indicating that DEA and FBI may have had a role in the operation. In the July 5,2011 letter (read more HERE) lawmakers who were once very critical of Melson and his tenure at ATF, have since changed their tune and are now urging the Attorney General to ensure Melson is being treated fairly – even suggesting that action against Melson by the Justice Deparmtment could have the effect of “intimidating others who might want to provide additional information to the committees.”

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