Holder and other administration staff repeatedly provided false inf...
One of the civilians cooperating with ATF feared he was being set up to take the fall after Agent Terry’s death and so secretly tape recorded a conversation with ATF Agent McAllister,...
. Field personnel gave accounts to Congress which directly conflicted with the statements of credible civilian participants they had recruited and the whistleblower agents against whom the retaliated. Even Obama’s own IG report found the accounts provided, not credible. Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler resigned after evidence surfaced that he knew of the serious problems and failed to act. Others involved in the conduct were promoted or given departmental awards despite IG findings of recklessness, and compelling evidence they lied.
The IG Report stated: “Voth also told us that he could not recall concerns being raised about the number of guns being purchased. In one of the few communications we identified where Voth addressed probable cause to seize, he took exception to an agent in another office who, in connection with an 80-gun seizure that included guns from from Fast and Furious, asked Voth, “[a]re you planning to stop these guys any time soon? That’s a lot of guns that have been seized. Are you just letting these guns walk?” Voth replied, “[h]ave I offended you in some way? Because I am very offended by your e-mail.” The IG did not credit Voth’s account.
Agent Dodson had repeatedly warned that American agents would die i...
He went to his supervisor, Voth, and Voth's assistant, George Gillett, for answers, but the conversation quickly escalated into a "screaming match" heard by the entire Phoenix office. Dodson told his bosses angrily: "Why not just go direct and empty out the ATF arms room to the cartels. Don't you know these guns will be used to kill people?" Dodson "argued with a superior asking, 'are you prepared to go to the funeral of a federal officer killed with one of these guns?' Another said, “every time there was a shooting near the border, 'we would all hold our breath hoping it wasn't one of 'our' guns." Leading From Behind at 215; also in IG Report.
The IG Report confirmed that “Casa shared Dodson’s criticism of the case and told us that he recalled frustration “boiling over” in March 2010 when it became evident to him that ATF was “letting all these guns out” despite sufficient evidence to take enforcement action. Casa said he witnessed Dodson’s statement about attending the funeral of a law enforcement officer and told us that there were daily conversations about how no action was being taken to stop the purchases and that ATF was “enabling traffickers.” Casa told us that he had specific conversations with Voth and MacAllister on the subject.”
They would did not have to hold their breath for long for the criminally stupid program to turn fatal. December 14, 2010, Agent Terry and three other agents went to Peck Canyon to attempt to apprehend a group preying on migrant and illegal immigrants. They were equipped with “less than lethal” bean bag weapons
despite the flood of lethal weapons ATF had poured across the border to the drug gangs and criminal element. Using night vision googles and ATF supplied rifles, they killed agent Terry and fled. Id at 215-16
On the day after the Terry murder, an ATF agent, whose name has been redacted in the official record, sent an e-mail. "The two firearms recovered by ATF this afternoon near Rio Rico, Arizona, in conjunction with the shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Terry were identified as 'Suspect Guns' in the Fast and Furious investigation." The gun serial numbers were edited out of the e-mail. The e-mail continued: "I initiated an urgent firearms trace request on both of the firearms and then contacted the NTC to ensure the traces were conducted today.” Id at 215.
On January 25, 2011, the Administration released a Press Statement regarding the Sinaloa Cartel bust
which emphasized Clintons efforts to build cooperation with Mexico regarding drug trafficking and quoted Newell stating, “We strongly believe we took down the entire organization from top to bottom that operated out of the Phoenix area." On January 27, 2011, Senator Grassley wrote to acting Director of the ATF Kenneth Melson:
On Tuesday, according to press reports, the ATF arrested 17 suspects in a Project Gunrunner bust. William Newell, the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF's Phoenix Field Office was quoted as saying, ‘We strongly believe we took down the entire organization from top to bottom that operated out of the Phoenix area.’ However, if the 17 individuals were merely straw purchasers of whom the ATF had been previously aware before Agent Terry's death, then that raises a host of serious questions that the ATF needs to address immediately.”
No response came, except retaliation against whistle blowers.
On January 31, 2011, pursuant to reports that the Phoenix ATF management was threatening reprisals against agents who talked about the Terry case, Senator Grassley sent another letter to Acting Director Melson, reminding him strongly of the whistleblower protection laws and that the Congress would decline to appropriate money to pay the salaries of any federal employees who tried to so retaliate. Id at 216
February 4, 2011, Holder’s Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich sent a letter with a false categorical denial of ATF allowing straw purchasers to walk. Assistant AG Lanny Breuer assisted with the letter, and was dispatched to Mexico to handle backlash there. Id. at 222 The February 4, 2011, letter was formally retracted as no longer “o...
The letter had wistfully requested that Senator Grassley refrain from contacting sources independently. Id at 218. Significantly, in Congressional testimony, Weich indicated that he was not the author of the letter he signed, “these letters are the product of the Justice Department.” Id at 221. April 19, 2011, Assistant AG Lanny Bruer, met with an aide James Trusty, to discuss, “the bad stuff that could come out” about guns walking. Id at 222.
Retaliatory actions were taken against several people who cooperated. Id. The IG Report
noted that both civilians and cooperating witnesses had raised retaliation concerns
, went out of its way to confirm the good faith and laudable conduct of the civilians and then noted that pending investigations of retaliation were outside the scope of their present report. By contrast those who assisted the cover-up and continued the irresponsible program long after its operational flaws were apparent from the appearance of walked guns at Mexican murder scenes were promoted and given awards.
What Did They Know and When Did they Know It
Holder denied that he read reports sent to his office and denied any knowledge of the deficiencies in the operation before receiving Senator Grassley’s letter after Officer Terry’s death. There are many reasons to question this account.
First, by the nature of the activity, it would be irresponsible not to have been briefed. As the IG states, “We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude, and one that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General.”
There is clearly contrary evidence. Richard Miniter reports that Holder appears to have referenced Fast & Furious during a conference with Mexican authorities April 2, 2009:
"Last week, our administration launched a major new effort to break backs of the cartels. My department is committing one hundred new personnel to me Southwest border in the next one hundred days to supplement our ongoing Project Gunrunner."
Documents dating from summer 2010, released during a congressional hearings, show the detail of Holder's knowledge. At least five briefing memos on the subject were delivered to Holder's office from aides and supervisory agents in the field, but the Attorney General has Maintained that he "never read" them.
Leading From Behind at 214. Only Fast & Furious fits the description given in April, and it takes a considerable leap of faith to accept that multiple memos were ignored.
Miniter, also explained that Congressman Issa’s investigators had uncovered that the Whitehouse had a direct backdoor link to the field information:
The Phoenix ATF office had already briefed White House officials, in detail, from the earliest stages of the program. In September 2010, Kevin O'Reilly was National Security Director for North America at the White House. O'Reilly was asked to provide a presidential briefing in advance of President Obama's trip to Mexico. So O'Reilly called Bill Newell, his friend, to get the details-the same Bill Newell who was in charge of Operation Fast and Furious in Phoenix. Newell sent the information in an e-mail to O'Reilly that said, "You didn't get this from me."
Congressional investigators, working for Rep. Darrell Issa (RCalifornia) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), later uncovered the e-mail exchange. The e-mails were the subject of a July 26, 20ll, hearing in a House office building. When Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) asked Newell, "What does that mean, 'You didn't get this from me'?" This July 2011 hearing was the first time anyone publicly documented that a White House official was familiar with Operation Fast and Furious. Newell answered, "Obviously he was a friend of mine and I shouldn't have been sending that to him."
Leading From Behind, at 213-14.
The ATF Special Agent, Bill Newell, testified to Congress in July 2011 that he's a longtime friend with then-White House National Security Staffer Kevin O'Reilly. The two emailed and talked on the phone during the controversial Fast and Furious gunwalking operation, according to documents and Newell's testimony to Congress.
In one email exchange about Fast and Furious on Feb. 11, 2011 O'Reilly asked Newell, "Would ATF be willing to put you or others in front of US media that gets pickup in Mexico (CNN en Espanol, perhaps) to tell this story?"
At the time, the Justice Department and ATF were denying any gunwalking had occurred, and were looking for ways to promote stories about gun traffickers buying weapons in the U.S. and taking them to Mexico.
"Kevin as we discussed last night," answered Newell, "these are some examples of what we could get translated and use in the Mexican media . . . The 'Fast and Furious' indictment is listed under 'U.S. v Avila.'"
The two also emailed about the case in July 2010, exchanging anecdotes and photographs of gun seizures in the case:
"This is great; very informative," O'Reilly told Newell. "OK to share with Sr Director Dan Restropo and with CT/CN Director Greg Gatjanis? Would not leave NSS I assure you."
"Sure," answered Newell, "just don't want ATF HQ to find out, especially since this is what they should be doing (briefing you)!"
The article went on to confirm that “Last fall, the White House said O'Reilly was unavailable because he was on assignment for the State Department in Iraq. Investigators said they were willing to do the interview by phone, and O'Reilly's lawyer said he had no objection. However, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said O'Reilly will not be made available.
Holder asserted executive privilege as to 70,000+ documents including communications to and from Holder and communications to and from National Security Director for North America at the White House, Kevin O’Reilly, who had a prior relationship and direct contact with Newell a central figure in the field operations.
The Question Remains, Why?
Miniter offers a rational explanation for the irrational conduct, by repeating and expanding prior errors exponentially:
During a joint press conference with Mexican president Felipe Calderon in April 2009, Obama said, "Our focus is to work with Secretary [Janet] Napolitano, Attorney General Holder, our entire Homeland Security team, ATF, border security, everybody who is involved with this to coordinate with our counterparts in Mexico to significantly ramp up our enforcement of existing laws. In fact, I've asked Eric Holder to do a complete review of how our current enforcement operations are working and make sure we are cutting down on the loop holes that are causing some of these drug trafficking problems. Last point I would make is that there are going to be some opportunities where I think we can build some strong consensus. I'll give you one example and that is the issue of gun tracing, the tracing of bullets and ballistics and gun information that had been used in major crimes.
It seemed to many in the gun-rights community, that Obama and Holder were laying the groundwork for claiming that the government’s gun walking program justified another round of gun regulation. Citing border security and the fight against illegal drugs as justification, Obama and Holder were already seeking to increase government oversight of gun ownership. But opposition from the public and Congress was steep. Fast and Furious may have been designed to show that their opponents were wrong.
That suspicion, which so far has not been proved with "smoking gun” evidence, is surprisingly widespread. Everyone from ATF agents to congressional investigators repeats it. As one congressional staffer connected to the investigation said, "Nothing else makes any sense."
In his fact-finding quest, Mark Chait, ATF Assistant Director for Field Operations in Washington, sent this e-mail to ATF agent Bill Newell on July 14, 2010. Newell was in charge of ATF's Phoenix office:
Bill - can you see if these guns were all purchased from the same (licensed gun dealer) and at one time. We are looking at anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long-gun multiple sales. Thanks.
Indeed, Obama issued this Executive Order, which has the force of law, and cited exactly the justification that Chait mentioned:
The international expansion and increased violence of transnational criminal networks pose a significant threat to the United States. Federal, state, and foreign law enforcement agencies have determined that certain types of semi-automatic rifles-greater than .22 caliber and with the ability to accept a detachable magazine-are highly sought after by dangerous drug trafficking organizations and frequently recovered at violent crime scenes near the Southwest Border. This new reporting measure-tailored to focus only on multiple sales of these types of rifles to the same person within a five-day period-will improve the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce to criminals and criminal organizations. These targeted information requests will occur in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas to help confront the problem of illegal gun trafficking into Mexico and along the Southwest Border. Id. at 212-13.
Two things quickly. First of all, this was so flawed that you can’t believe they expected to actually get criminal prosecutions as a result of it. So the level of flaw — flaw — flaw, if that’s a word, here is huge.
Here’s the real answer as to gun control. We have e-mail from people involved in this that are talking about using what they’re finding here to support the — basically assault weapons ban or greater reporting. So chicken or egg? We don’t know which came first; we probably never will,” Issa said this morning on “This Week.” “We do know that during this — this ‘Fast and Furious’ operation, there were e-mails in which they’re saying we can use this as part of additional reporting or things like assault weapons ban. So the people involved saw the benefit of what — what they were gathering. Whether or not that was their original purpose, we probably will never know.”
And I — and I take people at their word that this started off in some way as an idea where they could get good information, they could, in fact, roll up bad guys. But after it was out of control and people are saying, we’re letting too many guns walk, those kinds of e-mails occurred, we — we have people who also were being opportunists.
And, remember, Eric Holder issued a four-state reporting for long rifles and used what he had had here. Right in the middle of the scandal, he issues that for four states. They never needed this information. They never needed the reporting to get this information. These federally licensed gun dealers came to ATF and told them they had straw-buyers, told them they had suspicious buyers, and turned them on to the very people. And one of these people bought over 700 weapons, just one straw-buyer.
So it’s very clear the system was working, where ATF was getting information voluntarily from licensed gun dealers. They don’t need the additional reporting, but they got it anyway, and they used gun violence to the border and this operation as part of it. So I think when you look at the chicken or egg, there’s proof that they certainly were opportunist.
“I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms,” he told an audience gathered in New Orleans for the National Urban League convention. “But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals,” he added. “I believe the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons; that we should check someone’s criminal record before they can check out a gun seller.”
While Obama appeared ready to try to take advantage of the tragedy, Reid and Pelosi were not. By the following day Obama sent Carney out to dial back the statement and assure that the President would not push for new reforms, but would instead fight gun violence within the confines of current law. Speaker Boehner then converted the statement to a commitment, “The White House has made clear that they are not going to use this horrific event to push for legislation,” Boehner said Tuesday, “and I agree.”
What Might Have been
If Agents Dodson and Casa had not come forward, and the cooperating gun dealers had not been sufficiently suspicious to preserve evidence of their participation at ATF’s request; it does not require much imagination to see how ATF could have burned the dealers once there were sufficient deaths across the border from the guns they allowed to walk.
The makings of just such a burn are laid out in the IG Report:
"MacAllister, Voth, and Hurley each disputed the owner of FFL1’s recollection of what was discussed at the December 17 meeting. They denied giving the owner of FFL1 direction about whether to make sales and denied telling him that ATF was interdicting the firearms he was selling to the suspected straw purchasers. According to Hurley, he told the owner of FFL1 only that: “we’re glad that you’re continuing to work with ATF. We’re glad that you are making phone calls. I can’t give you legal advice but if you’re making lawful sales and a lawful sale seems to be unusual, please continue to call ATF. [...] Voth wrote a report dated April 6, 2011, which memorialized the meeting on December 17, 2009."
"In other words, we questioned whether the interests of ATF’s investigation caused the owner of FFL1 to sell firearms he otherwise would not have sold, as the owner of FFL1 told us he did. Voth and MacAllister each rejected this possibility.Voth told us that the owner of FFL1 was in the business of selling firearms and needed no encouragement from ATF to do so.Like Voth, MacAllister maintained that she did not encourage or direct the owner of FFL1 to solicit or make sales that he otherwise would not have made. With respect to the telephone calls that the owner of FFL1 recorded, MacAllister told us that in general she did not request that the owner of FFL1 initiate contact with a subject about possible firearms purchases.[then listed exceptions she had to admit, because there were records of the contacts]
Hurley also disputed any claim that the government gave the owner of FFL1 authority to sell firearms to whomever the ATF was investigating without regard to whether the sale was suspiciousAs far as a meeting to encourage [the owner of FFL1] to make particular sales, nobody needed to encourage him to make sales. As far as telling him it was okay to sell whatever he wanted, we never told him it was okay to sell whatever you want or that it was okay to sell to certain people regardless of quantity. He still needs to make the decision on a case-by-case basis whether he’s going to sell.
First, they deny they directed the illegal sales (not knowing Dodson had documented the directive), then they supply the hook which was intended to be used. "Hurley told us there are gun stores in Arizona, like FFL1, that have a history of calling ATF after making a suspicious sale. Hurley said he did not know whether these stores’ motivation was to “cover themselves” or for “good will,” but said it was “coincidental that they tend to make the call after the check has cleared or after the money is in the register.” Hurley said that the owner of FFL1 had for years called ATF after completing a big sale, and that he did not just start doing this in Operation Fast and Furious."
The IG Report notes that both cooperating dealers were high volume dealers, which would have made them excellent targets for a burn. It might well have worked.
However, events out of their control conspired against them. Democrats lost control of the House, and with it the ability to control investigations in the November 2010 elections. Had Republicans not gained control of the House, there would have been no Representative Issa to Chair an investigation after Senator Leahy slammed the door on Senator Grassley’s initial attempt. In a particularly unfortunate break for ATF, Agent Terry was killed by a walked gun just before the Republican’s took over the House. They just did not have adequate time to plan and execute a credible cover up. Though the emails and McAllister tape indicate they gave it a good try.
Watergate did not consume Nixon until after his re-election, hopefully we will not have to wait for the Impeachment process this time around. While we will have to wait until after the election for the withheld documents, this is but one of many reasons to vote Obama out. Moreover, what we already know proves at a minimum reckless incompetence in actions which caused multiple deaths.
I think the primary significance of the above facts regarding the possible gun control motive is being missed.
While Congressman Issa is right that we may never know whether Gun Control was a original motivation, or an opportunistic add on; the communications of themselves make the claim that Holder and others were not aware of the “rogue program” on the boarder ludicrous:. Obama said:
"Our focus is to work with Secretary [Janet] Napolitano, Attorney General Holder, our entire Homeland Security team, ATF, border security, everybody who is involved with this to coordinate with our counterparts in Mexico to significantly ramp up our enforcement of existing laws. In fact, I've asked Eric Holder to do a complete review of how our current enforcement operations are working.
If Holder did such a review, how could he not know the operational plan of Fast and Furious? If he did not do such a review, how did Mark Chait, ATF Assistant Director for Field Operations in Washington, know to seek such information from Newell? Most importantly, if Obama was not aware of all of this, on what did he base the Executive Order.
At this point why? may be academic. The salient question remains "what did they know and when did they know it" and Holder has a far tougher row to hoe on privilege than any of the Watergate defendants did.