Reviewing ATF’s Failures in the Death of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata

Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Hearing Date: March 9, 2017 10:00 am 2154 Rayburn HOB

TAKEAWAYS:

  • Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) failed to appear at the hearing. Invitations to testify before Congress are not optional. Chairman Chaffetz signed subpoenas to compel the attendance of ATF officials Ronald Turk and William Temple later this month.
  • ATF took full responsibility for not investigating straw purchasers who trafficked a firearm that was later used in the attack that killed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata and wounded his colleague, Special Agent Victor Avila.
  • The inspector general gave further examples of law enforcement agencies not sufficiently communicating with one another.
  • ATF is making an effort to work more closely with the U.S. Attorney in order to improve communications during ongoing investigations.
  • Chairman Chaffetz requested that ATF work with the courts to reach an agreement to provide documents to Congress sealed in connection with a tobacco churning case.

PURPOSE:

  • To examine the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General’s (DOJ OIG) recently-released report regarding the firearms found at the scene of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata’s murder.
  • To discuss ATF’s cigarette trafficking practices, including the handling of informants and oversight of revenue-generating operations.

BACKGROUND:

  • In 2011, the Los Zetas drug cartel murdered ICE Agent Jaime Zapata using firearms linked to two buyers in Texas. ATF had monitored the two buyers trafficking firearms in 2010 but made no effort to further investigate or arrest the buyers until after Zapata’s death.
  • In 2011 and 2012, while investigating Operation Fast and Furious and the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, the Oversight Committee and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) inquired about ATF’s failure to investigate and arrest the Texas traffickers until after the death of Agent Zapata.
  • DOJ told Congress both matters had been referred to the DOJ OIG. However, when the DOJ OIG released its September 2012 report confirming Congress’s findings from the bicameral investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, the report did not address Agent Zapata’s death.
  • At that time, the Oversight Committee and Sen. Grassley formally requested the DOJ OIG investigate the firearms used in Zapata’s murder; the report was recently issued on March 1, 2017, four and a half years later.

KEY VIDEOS:

Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT): “How long did it take [ATF] to figure out someone was asleep at the switch, and the second part of the is what happened to him? Was he fired? Was he disciplined?”

Rep. Russell (R-OK): “We had dedicated agents like yourself [who] lost their life because people were not doing their job. And worse, we had a desire on the part . . . of people to allow these firearms to walk south for reasons yet to be determined. And yet everyone wants to sweep that under the rug.”

Rep. Hice (R-GA): “Does ATF . . . have a responsibility to disrupt potential straw purchasing even if they’re unable to obtain a prosecution?”

Witnesses and testimonies

Name Title Organization Panel Document
The Honorable Michael E. Horowitz Inspector General Department of Justice Document
Mr. Thomas E. Brandon Acting Director Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Document
Mr. Ronald B. Turk Associate Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Mr. William A. Temple (Invited) Special Agent in Charge, Dallas Field Division Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Mr. John Craft (Invited) Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Department of Justice