By Pete Yost
WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors from Los Angeles and San Diego will take over cases arising from a flawed law enforcement operation in Arizona that is being investigated by Congress and the inspector general's office at the Justice Department.
The change comes at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix, which was deeply involved with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in carrying out Operation Fast and Furious, the program aimed at taking down major arms traffickers.
A congressional investigation of the program has turned up evidence that ATF lost track of many of the more than 2,000 guns linked to the operation. Attorney General Eric Holder requested the inquiry now being conducted by the IG's office at the Justice Department.
One of the cases that the new prosecutors will handle accuses a man of second-degree murder in a shootout that left Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry dead near the Arizona-Mexico border. Two guns recovered from the scene of that shooting were involved in Operation Fast and Furious. A separate case is against 20 low-level gun buyers who were allegedly supplying weapons illicitly to major gun traffickers.
On Tuesday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the decision to switch prosecutors is clearly in the best interest of achieving just results and removes the apparent conflict of interest that Arizona prosecutors had in bringing cases from a mishandled operation. Issa chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is conducting the investigation of the operation.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that calling in outside prosecutors "is a step in the right direction."
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