Under fire for losing track of weapons that turned up at crime scenes along the Southwest border, the Justice Department has taken the extraordinary step of formally withdrawing an inaccurate letter about the episode that it sent to Congress earlier this year.
Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole sent nearly 1,400 pages of emails and other documents to Capitol Hill late Friday afternoon that lay bare the raw and sometimes cringe-worthy process by which the letter was drafted. The materials contain clues into how misleading information about the botched gun trafficking operation made it into a Feb. 4, 2011 letter to Congress that department leaders have since acknowledged was false.
Misleading Congress can be a prosecutable offense if a person who makes the statements knows they are false. But Attorney General Eric Holder has told lawmakers that so far he has no evidence anyone intended to deceive them. The matter remains under investigation not only by Republicans in Congress but also the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The February 2011 letter said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives makes “every effort” to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally before they cross into Mexico. It added that the allegation that the ATF had “sanctioned or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons” to suspicious people was false.
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