Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, in the latest battle with his Republican counterpart on the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday that an investigation into a troubled federal gun trafficking operation should also consider the role U.S. gun laws play in violence on the Mexican border.
In a report released by the Baltimore Democrat on Thursday, in advance of a Capitol Hill forum he scheduled on the issue, Cummings argues that federal agents working to combat international drug cartels would benefit from tougher criminal penalties on straw purchases and trafficking.
Cummings, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said the committee's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has tried to "wall off any discussion of the nation's gun laws" as part of the ongoing investigation.
"Trafficking firearms to Mexico is illegal. Anyone who buys an assault rifle on behalf of a Mexican cartel is a criminal," the Baltimore lawmaker said. "Placing common-sense restrictions on criminals who supply guns to drug cartels does not infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens."
Issa's investigation has centered on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives sting operation called "Fast and Furious," in which agents allowed weapons to be sold to straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels to discover how those guns were brought across the border. But the ATF lost track of many of those weapons, including two that were found at the scene of the murder of an ATF agent last year.
Republicans say Cummings' focus on gun laws is beside the point.
"This is a predictable maneuver from a minority that has sought to obstruct the investigation into Justice Department sanctioned gunwalking," said Issa spokesman Frederick Hill. "It will not affect the committee's continued focus on a reckless operation that has been linked to deaths on both sides of the border."
Cummings and Issa have battled publicly this year over everything from a high-profile investigation into the mortgage foreclsoure crisis to rules over who can call which witnesses to testify.
At a news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama was asked whether he will consider replacing the current leadership at the ATF.
"My attorney general has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun running to be able to pass through into Mexico," Obama responded. "I've made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF, and we got to find out how that happened. As soon as the investigation is completed, I think appropriate actions will be taken."