Iowa Senator Says Justice Department Policy May Have Led to Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's Shooting Death
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley accuses the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives of instructing Arizona gun dealers to sell firearms that eventually landed in the hands of Mexican drug cartels -- a strategy the senator says may have led to the southeastern Arizona shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December.
Grassley continuously has asked the Justice Department to explain its policy surrounding Project Gunrunner -- the ATF campaign to battle weapons trafficking -- amid safety concerns from cooperating firearms dealers and agency whistleblowers.
"These whistleblowers had warned their higher-ups that the strategy would end up getting someone killed," Grassley's office says in a statement. "Their prophecy may have come true when Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a gunfight with suspected cartel members on December 14, 2010."
In a letter from Grassley -- a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- to Attorney General Eric Holder, he accuses the Justice Department of trying to cover up concerns shared by whistleblowers from the ATF and an Arizona Federal Firearms Licensee.
Grassley references an e-mail sent from the unnamed Arizona firearm dealer to an ATF supervisor in June, where the dealer says he wanted to make sure the guns he sold would never "end up south of the border or in the hands of the bad guys," and was concerned because he had some very close friends who worked for Border Patrol in southern Arizona:
Incredibly, the [Arizona] FFL sent this email six months before guns from the same ATF operation were found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's murder. So, not only were the ATF agents who later blew the whistle predicting that this operation would end in tragedy, so were the gun dealers--even as ATF urged them to make the sales.
Grassley says the Justice Department claim that the ATF never sanctioned the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers -- the intermediaries to cartels -- is "simply not credible."
Now, Grassley has proposed an April 20 deadline for Attorney General Holder to respond to the allegations.
Click here to read Grassley's entire letter and the corresponding e-mails.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.