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Letting guns walk across the border breeds violence and breaches public trust

April 11, 2011
By U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Watching revolutions unfold halfway across the world, Americans have countless reasons to appreciate living in the land of opportunity. Liberty, justice and the rule of law are the foundations of our republic. These are the noble principles for which generations of men and women in uniform have put their lives on the line in service to their country. From the U.S. military to federal law enforcement, the taxpaying public places enormous trust in those who are leading our men and women into harm’s way, whether protecting national security, enforcing our laws or patrolling our borders.

In the U.S. Senate, I have led a decades-long crusade to protect the public trust. Transparency and accountability are crucial cornerstones. My efforts to root out waste, fraud and abuse aren’t influenced by the political party running the show in Washington. Regardless of who serves in the White House or which party controls the U.S. Congress, I am not afraid to investigate and track down answers if I have reason to believe tax dollars are being misspent or wrongdoing within the federal bureaucracy is compromising the Constitution’s covenant with the American people.

Many of my investigations over the years have been triggered by information shared by whistleblowers. At substantial risk to their careers and livelihoods, whistleblowers come forward to tell the truth about an injustice, fraudulent spending or wrongdoing.

As Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, I have been investigating disturbing allegations that high ranking officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) gave the thumbs up for the sale of thousands of guns to known straw purchasers, promising interdiction, only to allow the guns to “walk” across the border.

According to more than a dozen whistleblowers from the ATF, the bureau knowingly has allowed assault weapons to be sold to these so-called straw buyers, individuals who illegally purchase firearms in the U.S. and then transport the weapons across the border to resell them to Mexican drug cartels. The ATF officials say the practice was intended to trap gun-smuggling networks operating along the southwest border who supply the violent drug –trafficking cartels in Mexico.

The agents warned that the practice was headed for disaster. And, their prophecy came true. Instead of intercepting the assault rifles and hand-pistols, the firearms allegedly were allowed to “walk” across the border, without U.S. interdiction, delivering thousands of guns into violent, drug networks in Mexico.

Tragically, those who might have given the green light to the ill-conceived strategy may now have the blood of U.S. federal agents on their hands.

In December, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in a shoot-out along the southwest border near Tucson, Arizona. Two AK-47 type assault rifles found at the scene were among the firearms purchased illegally under an operation known as “Fast and Furious.” The murder of another federal agent in February also may have ties to this practice. Special Agent Jaime Zapata of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was attacked and killed, with a gun purchased by an alleged straw buyer, while on assignment in Mexico.

If the U.S. government has allowed countless guns to “walk” across the border into the hands of violent criminals, the American public deserves to know. What’s more, those responsible for the shocking violation of ethics and federal law must be held accountable. Finally, the family and loved ones of the agents who died in the line of duty deserve a full accounting and justice to prevail in honor of their memories.

Since January I’ve called upon the administration to come clean about its alleged policy that allows guns to “walk” across the border. So far my requests for answers have hit a stone wall at the ATF, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and Customs Border Protection.

When asked about the allegations that the ATF let guns “walk” across the border, the President said, “There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that’s the case then we’ll find out and we’ll hold somebody accountable.” The executive branch has the Constitutional authority to execute the laws of the land, not trample on them. If the federal bureaucracy thumbs its nose at the rule of law and evades accountability, the violence along the southwest border will worsen the public trust. A government, especially a federal law enforcement agency, which acts above the law, undermines the rule of law.

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