As Congressman Darrell Issa's Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearings continue later today, it's a safe bet that the groundwork the committee has laid in earlier hearings will keep government officials from denying their actions -or culpability in potentially criminal actions.
Already, a litany of legal experts, all in agreement, have testified that the Justice Department did not have the right to withhold documents from a Congressional investigation simply based on the premise that Justice, too, has an "ongoing investigation".
Those sessions have laid the groundwork for potential criminal proceedings against those officials involved in the entire shameful Gunrunner/Fast&Furious operation-even if those officials happen to be senior-level at both the Justice Department and ATF. Issa has said it is his intention to remove the opportunity for any official to escape responsibility- and prosecution- should criminal charges result from the Congressional investigation.
Today's sessions will invoke outrage (Senator Grassley's testifying to the stonewalling of the Justice Department) emotion - with family members of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry testifying-and anger- as Phoenix Field Division ATF agents get the opportunity to tell their sides of the story without being threatened or interrupted.
Their testimony won't be hard to predict: "we told our bosses this was a really, really bad idea and they told us to shut up and keep going. We did, and it had tragic consequences. We were told to shut up about them, too."
At that point, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch will testify- and it's to be expected he'll be barbecued by the committee for his continued insistence that Congress needed to lay off the whole matter.
On February 4, Welch "reduced his position to writing" with a letter to Senator Grassley encouraging him to "back off" in his investigation.
Fortunately, Grassley was neither impressed nor intimidated by that letter.
It will be interesting to see if the Committee stirs the anthill even further by raising questions about other messed-up operations.
Meanwhile, confidential sources have told The Outdoor Wire about Operation Wide Receiver, another ATF/Justice Department investigation gone bad.
Mounted approximately five years ago out of the Tucson office, Wide Receiver may have actually been the template used -with equally inept results- by the now-infamous Phoenix operations.
In Operation Wide Receiver, Tucson agents allowed the sales of more than 500 firearms to known straw purchasers. Like Gunrunner/Fast and Furious, the operation apparently backfired.
Some firearms in Wide Receive were equipped with RFID tracking devices. In Wide Receiver, it seems the illegal purchasers seemed more than slightly knowledgeable of the way the ATF and how to take their aerial and electronic tracking procedures down.
Knowing the time aloft numbers for virtually all planes used in government surveillance, the buyers had a simple method of getting their purchases across the border undetected. They simply drove four-hour loops around the area.
As surveillance planes were forced to return to base for re-fueling, the smugglers simply turned and sprinted their cargo across the border.
The RFID tags also turned out to be problematic.
Rather than making large enough holes for the tags to be laid out inside weapons, agents force-fit them into the rifles.
That cramming caused the antennae to be folded, reducing the effective range of the tags. And an already short battery life (36-48 hours maximum) meant that should purchasers allow the firearms to sit, the tracking devices eliminated themselves.
This sounds like something out of "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" but it's not.
To date, Wide Receiver hasn't really amounted to much in the way of interdiction, enforcement or prosecution, despite the huge amounts of surveillance video and audio evidence collected and the millions of dollars expended.
To date, sources tell us the only charges filed in the ongoing investigation are for falsifying Form 4473s. Not much of a return on an investigation that consumed millions of dollars in man-hours and money and placed the lives of law-abiding firearms dealers and their families in jeopardy.
Additionally, we have seen documents proving the Justice Department is not only aware of Wide Receiver, they're having problems with material witnesses and confidential informants who are concerned about the overall investigation and their personal safety.
Seems the confidential nature of the investigation was no better run than the rest of the operation.
Later today, the ongoing Congressional hearings on Gun Runner/Fast and Furious might start to sound like something from our past- the Watergate hearings. It all depends on how far up the chain of command the trail can be followed.
As other cases come to light, there's a very good chance that the calls for reform-or dismantling-of the ATF will continue. The Justice Department will be fortunate if that's all that happens.
In the meantime, the firearms allowed to pass into criminal hands continue to take their toll.
We'll keep you posted.