Is DOJ stonewalling Fast and Furious investigation?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX – Two lawmakers say the inspector general of the Department of Justice has compromised their investigation into allegations of misconduct in ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious.

The 2009 operation was designed to nab members of the big drug cartels and illegal weapons traffickers, but it was a colossal failure and an untold number of those weapons made it into Mexico and then were used in crimes. The original idea behind Fast and Furious was to look the other way and allow straw buyers – “little fish” – to make their purchases in hopes of following those weapons to the “big fish.”

Investigators, however, lost track of the weapons, several of which later turned up at crimes scenes here in the U.S. Two of those illegal weapons were used in the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

The fallout from the “Fast and Furious” debacle has been widespread with some losing their jobs and others being reassigned. Now there are allegations that the DOJ is “stonewalling” the investigation.

According to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Justice Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar undermined their investigation when she released secret tape recordings that support the allegations of misconduct to a potential witness at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix.

In a letter to the DOJ dated Tuesday, Issa and Grassley said the release of those tapes “undermines our ability to assess the candor of witnesses in our investigation and thus obstructs it.

“Moreover, your decision to immediately disclose the recordings to those you are investigating creates at least the appearance, if not more, that your inquiry is not sufficiently objective and independent,” the letter continued.

The DOJ said the audio recordings were turned over as part of the legal discovery process, which is a fact-finding process that takes place before trial. Each side is required to provide requested information to the other as part of that procedure.

The tapes in question reportedly were made by a firearms dealer named Andre Howard who was recruited by the ATF. Howard ‘s lawyer said the two recordings of Hope MacAllister, the lead Fast and Furious investigator, were meant to show the ATF’s active role in the gun-running scheme.