ATF Gunwalker: Who at the White House knew?
By Sharyl Attkisson
CBS News has obtained a series of emails that show the White House had more information on ATF’s controversial Fast and Furious operation than previously disclosed. But administration officials insists nobody at the White House knew specifically that ATF was allowing guns to “walk” into the hands of suspected gun traffickers for Mexican drug cartels.
ATF allegedly allowed more than two thousand assault rifles and other weapons to fall into the hands of suspects from late fall of 2009 through 2010.
The emails indicate three White House officials were briefed on gun trafficking efforts that included Fast and Furious. The officials are Kevin O’Reilly, then-director of North American Affairs, now assigned to the State Department; Dan Restrepo, senior Latin American advisory; and Greg Gatjanis, a national security official.
The White House officials were provided information on Fast and Furious and other border gun trafficking efforts through what an administration source calls “back channels” by ATF’s then-Special Agent in Charge of Phoenix Bill Newell. “…don’t want ATF HQ to find out, especially since this is what they should be doing (briefing you),” Newell wrote in an email to the White House’s O’Reilly on July 28, 2010. Newell has since been transferred out of that post.
An administration source describes the emails as colleagues sharing information about a gun trafficking initiative. On July 28, 2010 O’Reilly emails Newell: “Just an informal ‘how’s it going?” Newell replied by reporting good progress in efforts to stop gun trafficking to Mexico, and gave specific anecdotes. “This is great; very informative,” O’Reilly replies.
In another email to O’Reilly at the White House on Aug. 18, 2010, Newell expresses frustration with the US Attorney’s request to have agents in trafficking cases “physically inspect the firearms (that turn up) in Mexico… to show the jury that (it) was part of a trafficking scheme.” Newell complains, “Other districts don’t require this but hey it’s Arizona.” Newell went on to explain the difficulties in getting Mexico to cooperate on its end. “…it won’t take many more times of having doors slammed in (agent’s) faces by the Mexicans before they give up…” The US Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke resigned this week. His lead prosecutor in Phoenix who had advised ATF on Fast and Furious has been moved out of the criminal division.
The emails taken alone neither prove nor disprove whether White House officials knew that ATF was monitoring as weapons were sold to suspected gun traffickers, then let on the street without interdiction. However, an administration source vehemently denies anybody at the White House knew the controversial tactic known as “letting guns walk,” was being used. “These e-mails exchanges show nothing more than an effort to give local color to a policy initiative that was designed to give more resources to help with the border problem. They don’t even contain the name ‘Fast and Furious’ until February 2011.” The administration official adds: “The emails validate what has been said previously, which is no one at the White House knew about the investigative tactics being used in the operation, let alone any decision to let guns walk..”
The three email chains showing ATF made contact with White House officials are from: July 28- Aug. 11, 2010; Aug. 18, 2010; and Feb. 11, 2011. The third chain happened after the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona. Two weapons ATF allegedly let “walk” were found at the murder scene. That case is not referenced in the emails. The administration has not said whether the emails represent the only written White House communications on the case.
The email chains indicate there were also phone conversations between ATF’s Phoenix Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell and the White House’s Kevin O’Reilly. The content of those conversations has not been disclosed.
Correction: In an earlier version of this report, CBS News reported that an administration official claimed certain emails weren’t related to Fast and Furious, then later acknowledged they probably were. In fact, the official did not change his representation: the emails discussed were two different sets of emails.
Apparently continuing the coverup requires a sacrifice…
Bombshell: DOJ Considering Elimination of ATF
Katie Pavlich News Editor, Townhall Sep 30, 2011
Multiple sources, including sources from ATF, DOJ and Congressional offices have said there is a white paper circulating within the Department of Justice, outlining the essential elimination of ATF. According to sources, the paper outlines the firing of at least 450 ATF agents in an effort to conduct damage control as Operation Fast and Furious gets uglier and as election day 2012 gets closer. ATF agents wouldn’t be reassigned to other positions, just simply let go. Current duties of ATF, including the enforcement of explosives and gun laws, would be transferred to other agencies, possibly the FBI and the DEA. According to a congressional source, there have been rumblings about the elimination of ATF for quite sometime, but the move would require major political capital to actually happen.
“It’s a serious white paper being circulated, how far they’d get with it I don’t know,” a confidential source said.
After a town hall meeting about Operation Fast and Furious in Tucson, Ariz. on Monday, ATF Whistleblower Vince Cefalu, who has been key in exposing details about Operation Fast and Furious, confirmed the elimination of ATF has been circulating as a serious idea for sometime now.
Sounds great right? Eliminating ATF? But there is more to this story. Remember, low level ATF field agents, like ATF whistleblower John Dodson, were uncomfortable conducting Operation Fast and Furious from the beginning, but were told by high level officials within ATF that if they had a problem with the operation, they could find a job elsewhere.
“Allowing loads of weapons that we knew to be destined for criminals, this was the plan. It was so mandated,” ATF Whistleblower John Dodson said in testimony on Capitol Hill on June 15, 2011.
In fact, not only were the ATF agents forced to carry out the operation, they were told to go against what they had been taught in training.
“This operation, which in my opinion endangered the American public, was orchestrated in conjunction with Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley. [Emory Hurley is the same Assistant U.S. Attorney who previously prevented agents from using some of the common and accepted law enforcement techniques that are employed elsewhere in the United States to investigate and prosecute gun crimes.] I have read documents that indicate that his boss, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, also agreed with the direction of the case,” Special Agent Peter Forcelli said in testimony on Capitol hill on June 15, 2011.
“I recall my first days at the ATF academy, where it was drilled into us as new agents that under no circumstances would any firearms, in any investigation, leave the control of ATF. Instructors stressed that even if a weapon was lost “by accident,” the agent was still subject to termination,” former ATF Attaché to Mexico Darren D. Gil said in testimony on June 15, 2011.
ATF field agents weren’t the problem with Operation Fast and Furious, high ranking officials within ATF and the Department of Justice were and still are. DOJ would eliminate ATF only to take the heat off of the Obama Administration. By eliminating the bureau, it makes it seem like DOJ is taking Operation Fast and Furious so seriously, they decided to “clear out the corruption, clean house,” however, it would only be a distraction away from the people at the top of the investigation. In fact, evidence shows the DOJ has been stonewalling the Oversight Committee investigation into the operation to protect Obama political appointees.
“It was very frustrating to all of us, and it appears thoroughly to us that the Department is really trying to figure out a way to push the information away from their political appointees at the Department,” former ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson, who has since been moved to a position within DOJ, said of his frustration with the Justice Department’s response to the investigation in transcribed closed door testimony with the Oversight Committee in July 2011.
When I called the Department of Justice last week (five times) to request the white paper and receive a comment surrounding the idea of eliminating ATF, I received the following response: “Everyone is away from their desk right now.”
Up to this point, the Department of Justice has denied all allegations or involvement in Operation Fast and Furious, yet journalists and the House Oversight Committee have proved allegation after allegation to be true. For example, during a Congressional hearing in July, former ATF Special Agent in Charge William Newell, who has since been promoted to a position within the Justice Department, denied that his agency was trafficking guns to Mexico, despite overwhelming evidence and testimony from other ATF agents proving otherwise.
“At no time in our strategy was it to allow guns to be taken to Mexico,” Newell said on July 26, 2011, adding that at no time did his agency allow guns to walk.
We’ve heard this was a low level, “rogue” operation, turns out high level officials in the Justice Department, DEA, FBI, DHS, and even members of the White House national security team knew about Operation Fast and Furious.
Last week, ATF offered 400 agents buy outs to avoid budget cuts and is expecting 250-275 agents to take the offer through Voluntary Early Retirement. These buyouts come at a convenient time for the Justice Department, which can eliminate ATF, then say it’s because of budget cuts, when really, it’s to cover their tracks.
Eric Holder says he knew nothing…
Holder answers critics, says he knew nothing of ‘Fast and Furious’ tactics
Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that his testimony to Congress about a gun-smuggling investigation was truthful and accurate and that Republicans are engaging in political posturing when they say otherwise.
By PETE YOST
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that his testimony to Congress about a gun-smuggling investigation was truthful and accurate and that Republicans are engaging in political posturing when they say otherwise.
Holder said he had said little about the gun-smuggling probe because the Justice Department inspector general is investigating it, but he could not sit idly by while a Republican congressman suggested law enforcement and government employees be considered accessories to murder.
Key Republicans say the attorney general knew many months earlier than he has admitted that the gun-smuggling probe by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) involved agents letting guns pass from small-time straw purchasers to arms traffickers.
“I have no recollection of knowing about the operation, called ‘Fast and Furious,’ or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it,” Holder said in a letter to key Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
He added that before early this year, “I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation, and it is my understanding that the former United States Attorney for the district of Arizona and the former acting director and deputy director of ATF have told Congress that they, themselves, were unaware of the tactics employed.”
He was referring to the tactic known as “letting guns walk” from stores with suspected straw purchasers, rather than seizing them there, in an effort to track them to gunrunning kingpins.
Operation Fast and Furious came to light after two assault rifles purchased by a now-indicted small-time buyer under scrutiny in the operation turned up at a shootout in Arizona where Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed.
In regard to Terry’s death, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said: “we’re talking about consequences of criminal activity,” adding, “when you facilitate that, and a murder or a felony occurs, you’re called an accessory.”
The attorney general noted the flawed tactics employed in Fast and Furious “were actually employed in an investigation conducted during the prior administration.”
This week, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is looking into Fast and Furious, said Holder had to have known about the operation from weekly written reports he received back in July 2010.
The weekly reports cover dozens of investigations and some mentioned Fast and Furious, but did not outline the tactics it used.
Officials say ATF agents lost track of 1,400 of 2,000 guns identified in the operation. Many were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico.