House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz
issued subpoenas Thursday to two ATF agents after they failed to show at
a hearing examining the 2011 murder of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata.
“I'm tired of hearing from just [Justice Department]
management, I want to hear from the people that actually are on the
front lines doing this,” Chaffetz, R-Utah, said.
The committee will now seek to compel testimony from
William Temple, special agent in charge of the Dallas Field Division,
and Ronald Turk, associate deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, later this month.
The hearing Thursday was meant to examine alleged
lapses in the ATF's investigation into the trafficking of guns later
used in the February attack that killed Zapata and wounded his ICE
colleague, Special Agent Victor Avila.
An inspector general report was completed more than
five years after the committee and Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of
the Senate Judiciary Committee, inquired into Zapata’s murder. Zapata
was killed by members of the Los Zetas drug cartel while on official
business in Santa Maria del Rio, Mexico.
ATF Acting Director Thomas Brandon said Thursday he
did not order Temple and Turk to skip the hearing -- but agreed with
their decision not to appear, which drew a bipartisan rebuke from
Chaffetz and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings.
“That puts us in a kind of awkward position. We got
the boss, 'OK guys, you don't have to show up.' And that sends a hell of
a message. That's a problem,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Chaffetz complained ATF “continues to insist” the committee should not speak with Turk and Temple.
The one other witness, DOJ Inspector General Michael
Horowitz, did not escape unscathed when he contended he was not prepared
for the hearing.
“That’s a bunch of crap,” Chaffetz snapped, noting he received a draft of the report in December.
Another invited witness, John Craft, a prosecutor in
the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, did
not appear. But the chairman said due to the lateness of their
invitation, he would not receive a subpoena.
Questions about the firearms used to kill Zapata
surfaced during the separate congressional probe of Operation Fast and
Furious and the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
The IG issued its Operation Fast and Furious report in 2012, but did not issue its report on the Zapata case until March 1.
According to the report, two weapons used in Zapata's
murder were traced back to Otilio Osorio, who bought his gun at a
Dallas gun show, and Robert Riendfliesh, who purchased a gun at a pawn
shop in Beaumont, Texas.
The IG said the ATF were aware in 2010 that Osorio
and his brother might be trafficking firearms to Mexico, but they did
not follow up or further investigate until after Zapata’s death.
Otilio Osorio and Riendfliesh were arrested in late
February 2011 after the ATF confirmed weapons used in Zapata's murder
had been purchased by them.
faulted ATF for its handling of the case, saying there was "probable
cause" to arrest Osorio and his brother "after ATF witnessed the Osorios
complete a transfer of 40 firearms on November 9, 2010."
The IG said: “Overall, we found numerous problems
with ATF’s assimilation of information concerning [the suspects] ... and
the timeliness of ATF’s response to mounting evidence that they
were committing firearms offenses.”
Last week, Chaffetz and Grassley sent a letter demanding Justice explain the reason the investigation has dragged on.
"It has been nearly five years since the probe was
requested. Given the high level of congressional interest in this matter
and the seriousness of the allegations, we are perplexed that your
investigative work took so long,” they wrote.
Judiciary Committee Press Secretary Taylor Foy told
Fox News that the panel is interested in part in “whether government
employees involved in the debacle were held accountable.”