TUCSON, Ariz. --A government oversight committee’s investigation into whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico grew no closer to a conclusion Tuesday morning.
Members of Congress were audibly frustrated with ATF managers answers about Operation Fast and Furious. Here's an exchange between Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz and and former Phoenix ATF chief, William Newell.
“Is it hundreds or thousands of weapons to continue to flow through this program?" Chaffetz asked during the hearing.
"I’m sorry, can you repeat the question, sir?” Newell said.
"How many hundreds or thousands of weapons did you allow to be purchased, knowing they were going to Mexico?" Chaffetz said.
"Sir, the purchase was being done by criminal organizations," Newell said. He added the guns were not knowingly allowed to head to Mexico.
Newell’s former boss, William McMahon is the ATF Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations.
“In the heat of battle, mistakes were made and for that, I apologize,” McMahon told Congress.
But when pressed on what he was apologizing for, he only said for not having overseen the program more carefully.
The gun walking scandal began late last year after the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona. Two guns recovered at the crime scene were linked to Fast and Furious.
Agents who spoke to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the past said they’d been instructed to let the guns cross into Mexico. Jose Wall is an ATF senior agent in Tijuana. He said agents working in Mexico had no idea that the Fast and Furious program existed.
“I cannot believe that someone in ATF would so callously let firearms wind up in the hands of criminals," Walls said. "But it appears that I was wrong.”
The hearings will continue throughout the summer. Out of about 2,020 guns that were part of the Fast and Furious operation, only 590 have been recovered.
The ATF is accused of allowing cartel gun buyers to purchase weapons and take them unhindered into Mexico. Some 2,500 guns were reportedly smuggled south as part of this operation. The sting idea is common: Drug agents will let a narcotics purchase go through to build a case.