(Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
The family of Brian Terry, a slain border patrol agent linked to the Fast and Furious gun probe, is frustrated with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to accept responsibility for the federal operation that resulted in as many as 2,500 missing firearms.
In a statement sent to ABC15, the family held Holder accountable for Agent Terry’s death, going as far as saying that his killers were in fact armed with ATF (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms) weapons and that the attorney general should have known about the faulty operation.
“The fact of the matter is that the men who killed Brian Terry were armed with brand new military grade assault weapons and ammunition. The weapons were allowed to be purchased with the full approval of ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona; both agencies falling under the control of the attorney general,” family members wrote.
Terry’s family further stated, “The attorney general has said that he did not know about the flawed tactics being used by the ATF in Operation Fast and Furious, if this is true and he did not know, then he should have known.”
During a Tuesday hearing, Holder sympathized with the agent’s family but denied that Operation Fast and Furious played a part in Terry’s death.
“I certainly regret what happened to Agent Terry. I can only imagine the pain that his family has had to deal with, particularly his mother,” he said.
Holder continued, “It pains me whenever there is the death of a law enforcement official, especially under the circumstances. It is not fair, however, to assume that the mistakes that happened in Fast and Furious directly led to the death of Agent Terry.”
Operation Fast and Furious was a 2010 sting operation involving the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, National Drug Intelligence Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Phoenix police department. The mission was to bust weapons traffickers on the Southwest border. During the operation, federal agents were told to stand down from retrieving weapons purchased through straw buyers, and several weapons purchased in Arizona were allowed to cross the border into Mexico where they eventually became untraceable. The program was shut down when Terry was killed in January.
Holder testified in a May House Judiciary Committee hearing that he had no knowledge of the operation. He testified in the May 3 hearing, "I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."
However, interdepartmental memos show that Holder did have some knowledge of the operation. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer also sent a memo to Holder in November 2010 indicating that a sealed indictment against alleged gun traffickers would remain until "Operation Fast and Furious" is "ready for takedown."
Additionally, NDIC Director Michael Walther notified Holder in July 2010 that the NDIC and a Phoenix drug enforcement task force would assist the ATF with an investigation of a suspected gun trafficker, Manuel Celis-Acosta, being run under Operation Fast and Furious.
The memos led Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to renew calls for an investigation last month.
Breuer has since acknowledged that the Department of Justice’s claims that the ATF did not allow the guns to enter Mexico were untrue.
Holder also admitted, “Unfortunately, we will feel its effects for years to come as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crime scenes both here and in Mexico."
But he maintained that he was not aware of the operation’s movements.
“I have ultimate responsibility for that which happens in the department,” he said. “But I cannot be expected to know the details for every operation that is ongoing in the Justice Department on a day-to-day basis."
He also denied that weapons from the sting were used in Terry’s death. Two guns purchased in the ATF sting were found near his body. However, it is unknown if the guns were used in Terry's death.
The family maintains that the ATF's actions “defied common sense” and urged Holder to "accept responsibility."