Memo Shows Early ATF Concern on Fast and Furious Probe Despite Claims

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a conference at the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters on Sept. 19.

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a conference at the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters on Sept. 19.  (AP)

While federal officials publicly denounced a lone whistleblower and told Congress the Obama administration had done everything it could to stop guns from going to Mexico, administration officials had signs that Fast and Furious investigators were losing track of weapons, a new memo obtained exclusively by Fox News suggests.

The memo, written in early February by Agent Gary Styers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, appears to corroborate allegations made a few weeks earlier by whistleblower ATF Agent John Dodson about the gunrunning probe. It also conflicts with a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich to Congress, in which he insisted, "The allegation ... that ATF ‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons ... is false.”

Styers' memo to top ATF officials was dated Feb. 3, a day before Weich told Congress on Feb. 4 that Dodson's claims were false. Styers explained that Fast and Furious "divided and isolated agents," and the agent in charge called off surveillance. He detailed one instance in which agents monitoring a firearms transaction at a gas station were told they were too close to the scene -- while they repositioned, the buyer left the area without agents following. 

"It is unheard of to have an active wiretap investigation without full time dedicated surveillance units on the ground," he wrote. 

Styers wrote that his advice, and the advice of other agents, was "widely disregarded." 

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The memo was meant to describe conversations Styers had with staff for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, after the senator's staff contacted him with questions about Fast and Furious. And it presents a starkly different portrait of the probe than that portrayed by the Feb. 4 letter from Weich -- that letter is at the center of the controversy on Capitol Hill. 

And while Attorney General Eric Holder now admits Weich's letter was inaccurate, many in Congress feel deliberately misled. Holder is accused of knowing from multiple sources that Operation Fast and Furious deliberately allowed guns to go to Mexico, and that some of those guns had been linked to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry the previous December.

It's unclear whether any of the top brass at Justice saw the Styers memo. Asked about the memo, Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler referred Fox News to Holder's November testimony on Capitol Hill, where he said he only learned of the operation a "couple of months" before a May hearing where he testified on the matter. 

"AG has been clear in his testimony and letters about when he learned and how he learned about the inappropriate tactics," Schmaler said in an email. 

Grassley has demanded to know who at Justice approved the Weich letter before it was sent out. So far, Justice has failed to comply, prompting Grassley to speak out Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor.

"It’s clear that multiple highly placed officials in multiple agencies knew almost immediately of the connection between Operation Fast and Furious and Agent Terry's death," Grassley said. "Yet a month and a half after Agent Terry’s death, Attorney General Holder was allegedly ignorant of the Fast and Furious connection."

Grassley said "documents that have come to light in my investigation" that suggest to him both Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were not truthful when they told Congress they didn't know Fast and Furious guns were used kill Terry.

Those documents include emails suggesting U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke knew immediately guns found at the scene belonged to Fast and Furious and that Burke briefed Napolitano when she arrived in Tucson. The Phoenix FBI director knew it as well, and he too allegedly spoke to Napolitano.

"So, a very important question comes up. Why would they conceal the Fast and Furious connection from Secretary Napolitano days later?" Grassley asked. "Why would Mr. Burke conceal the Fast and Furious connection from Secretary Napolitano?"

Grassley says emails also show Burke spoke on Dec. 15, the day after Terry was shot, with Holder’s deputy chief of staff, Monty Wilkinson.

Shortly after that, the deputy director of the ATF made sure briefing papers were prepared about the Fast and Furious connection to Terry’s death and sent those to the deputy attorney general’s office at the Justice Department. Within 24 hours, Grassley said, they were forwarded to Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, accompanied by a personal email from one of Grindler’s assistants, explaining the situation. Two weeks later, Grindler was named Holder's chief of staff.

"So, a very important question is unanswered," Grassley said. "Why wouldn’t Mr. Grindler bring up these serious problems with Attorney General Holder? The Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security lost a man. ... And, if that’s not serious enough to brief up to the top of the department, then I don’t know what is."

Holder will be grilled on Fast and Furious next week by the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. They are likely to bring up the memo from Styers which quickly made its way to Washington in February.