By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
As much as the media have tried shielding the Obama administration from responsibility for corruption and malfeasance, the combined weight of the fallout from the Solyndra fiasco and the Operation Fast and Furious scandal have begun taking a serious toll on the administration. I will address Solyndra, the so called green energy company that received federal loans of more than a half a billion dollars, and then went bankrupt, in an upcoming report. That is starting to look like the tip of an iceberg of a political payoff scandal. But with subpoenas having been issued on October 13th in the Fast and Furious scandal to Attorney General Eric Holder and a total of 16 Justice Department officials, a variant of the famous Watergate question is being asked: “What did Eric Holder and President Obama know, and when did they know it?”
The usual truism is that many politicians make the mistake of not coming completely clean when allegations of wrongdoing surface. The cover-up, it is said, is often worse than the underlying crime or ethical violation. This has often been cited as the mistake made by people including Richard Nixon (Watergate break-in), Bill Clinton (Lewinsky, not to mention Filegate and Travelgate), John Edwards (love child and cheating on his cancer-stricken wife), and more recently, Anthony Weiner. There is a long list.
But in some cases, the crime, or lapse in judgment, is definitely worse than the cover-up. That appears to be the case in the simmering scandal engulfing the Obama administration that the mainstream media have tried their best to ignore for many months—the above mentioned Operation Fast and Furious.
In a recent column, I laid out the basic outline of the story, and how a very few in the mainstream media were finally getting interested in it. It involves the Obama Justice Department and was carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). It involves, among other things, at least 2,000 weapons, about 1,000 of which ended up in Mexico, and a Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, who was murdered with weapons found near the scene of the crime in Rio Rico, Arizona on December 14, 2010. Four suspects were arrested, who were linked to a Mexican drug smuggling operation. The weapons were among 57 linked to Fast and Furious which have been tied to at least 11 violent crimes in the U.S., including the Terry murder. The Justice Department, while largely stonewalling, has admitted this much to Congress, as reported by The Los Angeles Times. In addition, at least 200 people have been killed or wounded in Mexico with weapons linked to the operation. On February 15th of this year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata was shot to death in Mexico, another apparent victim.
The Bush administration had introduced Project Gunrunner in 2005 in an effort to reduce drug and firearms trafficking and the associated violence on both sides of the border with Mexico. Operation Fast and Furious began in September of 2009 and continued into early this year. What is known is that the federal government purposefully allowed gun smugglers, some with criminal records, to purchase guns at federally licensed firearms dealers in Arizona. In some cases the guns were taken across the Mexican border with the knowledge of U.S. government officials and delivered to major Mexican drug cartels.
According to CNS News, “The reported purpose of the operation was to track and uncover the entirety of the smuggling operations so they could be completely shut down. However, two rifles sold to a smuggler in the course of Operation Fast and Furious in January 2010 ended up at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.”
The Murder of Agent Brian Terry
The murder of Agent Terry apparently was the last straw for some. A number of agents were sickened by what they knew was going on. CNS News also put together a timeline of known events regarding Fast and Furious. In the timeline it talks about “a January 8, 2010 briefing paper from the ATF Phoenix Field Division Group VII” that says: ‘This investigation has currently identified more than 20 individual connected straw purchasers.’ It further says: ‘To date (September 2009 – present) this group has purchased in excess of 650 firearms (mainly AK-47 variants) for which they have paid cash totaling more than $350,000.’
“October 2009: The ATF’s Phoenix Field Division establishes a gun trafficking group called Group VII, which initially began using the strategy of ‘gunwalking,’ or allowing suspects to walk away with illegally purchased guns, according to a report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the staff of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“‘The purpose was to wait and watch, in hope that law enforcement could identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case,’ the report says. It goes on to say: ‘Group VII initially began using the new gunwalking tactics in one of its investigations to further the Department’s strategy. The case was soon renamed ‘Operation Fast and Furious.’”
“Jan. 5, 2010: ATF agents met with Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor in the matter, according to the briefing paper. The briefing paper says: ‘a determination was made that there was minimal evidence at this time to support any type of prosecution; therefore, additional firearms purchases should be monitored and additional evidence continued to be gathered.’
“Further, US Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis Burke was briefed on this day. [Burke had been Sec. of Homeland Security’ Janet Napolitano’s chief of staff] Burke “concurs with the assessment of his line prosecutors and fully supports the continuation of the investigation,” the briefing paper says. The paper goes on to say that then head of the ATF Phoenix Field Division, Special Agent in Charge William Newell, “has repeatedly met with the US A[ttorney] Burke regarding the on-going status of this investigation and both are in full agreement with the current investigative strategy.”
“Jan. 8, 2010: The aforementioned briefing paper from the ATF Phoenix Field Division sheds further light on the operation:
— The paper makes clear: ‘Currently our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to continue to take place, albeit at a much slower pace, in order to further the investigation and allow for the identification of additional co-conspirators who would continue to operate and illegally traffic firearms to Mexican DTOs [Drug Trafficking Organizations].’
— The ATF worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Phoenix Ariz.
— The ultimate goal is to secure [REDACTED] to identify and prosecute all co-conspirators of the DTO to include the 20 individual straw purchasers, the facilitators of the distribution cell centered here in Phoenix, the transportation cells taking firearms South, and ultimately to develop and provide prosecutable information to our Mexican law enforcement counterparts for actions.”
CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson later revealed that “ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix office Bill Newell—who led Fast and Furious—and then-White House National Security Staffer Kevin O’Reilly” were in close contact. “Emails indicate the two also spoke on the phone. Such detailed, direct communications between a local ATF manager in Phoenix and a White House national security staffer has raised interest among Congressional investigators looking into Fast and Furious. Newell has said he and O’Reilly are longtime friends.”
“The email exchanges span a little over a month last summer. [The emails were exchanged between late July and early September of 2010] They discuss ATF’s gun trafficking efforts along the border including the controversial Fast and Furious case, though not by name. The emails to and from O’Reilly indicate more than just a passing interest in the Phoenix office’s gun trafficking cases. They do not mention specific tactics such as ‘letting guns walk.’
“A lawyer for the White House wrote Congressional investigators: ‘none of the communications between ATF and the White House revealed the investigative law enforcement tactics at issue in your inquiry, let alone any decision to allow guns to ‘walk.’”
“Among the documents produced: an email in which ATF’s Newell sent the White House’s O’Reilly an ‘arrow chart reflecting the ultimate destination of firearms we intercepted and/or where the guns ended up.’ The chart shows arrows leading from Arizona to destinations all over Mexico.”
Attkisson reported in March 2011 on ATF agent John Dodson, a courageous whistleblower who had seen enough of letting these weapons move freely across the border. He had seen the consequences. You can see him tell part of his story to Attkisson in a March 2011 report on CBS:
In my article on Fast and Furious I credited some of those in the media who had been reporting on the story as information became known. They included Michelle Malkin, Andy McCarthy of National Review Online, Andrew Breitbart, Pajamas Media, American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, the Heritage Foundation. I then received several emails identifying others who had been the earliest to expose the details and the outline of this growing scandal. I heard from Dave Workman, Senior Editor of Gun Week, who wrote that the two men who uncovered the scandal last December were “National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea and independent blog journalist Mike Vanderboegh at Sipsey Street Irregulars. They broke this story, nobody else.” Workman has also contributed to the development of the story. Others include Mike Whipple of USActionnews.com and Bob Owens writing in Pajamas Media.
Sharyl Attkisson Steps Up Again
Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News has stood out as the one reporter in the mainstream media to take on this story, without fear or favor. She has stood strong in the past, and we have noted that as well. More than a decade ago, Attkisson was virtually alone when she began, during the Clinton administration, reporting on lax security at America’s leading nuclear weapons facility, Los Alamos. She stayed on that story for more than five years, and in doing so provided a great service to this country. She is doing so again on this story, and is paying a price. Recently Attkisson went on the Laura Ingraham radio show and “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News to describe how she was yelled and screamed at by officials both at the White House and DOJ for her pursuit of this story. She said she was yelled at by Tracy Schmaler at Justice and screamed at by Eric Schultz at the White House. She said she was told that she’s the only reporter who is not being “reasonable.” It is an outrage and other journalists should express that outrage.
Fox News has been all over the story. Sean Hannity had a one-hour special back in July devoted to this emerging scandal. William Lajeunesse of Fox News has also done some excellent reporting on this. CNN eventually carried some good stories on Fast and Furious, by Anderson Cooper and John King. But in general, the mainstream media have ignored the story and have gone to great lengths to be sure that it doesn’t implicate President Obama, much less Eric Holder, for anything other than being out of the loop.
The story got much larger when it was revealed that the federal government apparently purchased weapons and sold them directly to criminals in Mexico. As Michael Walsh of the New York Post wrote, “the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives apparently ordered one of its own agents to purchase firearms with taxpayer money, and sell them directly to a Mexican drug cartel. Let that sink in: After months of pretending that ‘Fast and Furious’ was a botched surveillance operation of illegal gun-running spearheaded by the ATF and the US Attorney’s office in Phoenix, it turns out that the government itself was selling guns to the bad guys.”
This revelation, along with the possibility that Holder may have perjured himself, could prove to be the game changer, and force the Obama administration to turn this over to an independent counsel. In May, Holder appeared before Congress. When asked when he first heard about Fast and Furious, Holder responded, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”
But recently released documents reveal that Holder received memos referring to the program in July, 2010. One such memo said, “Operation Fast and Furious” involved a “firearms trafficking ring.”
Holder later said that he had misunderstood the question.
Another key figure is Kenneth Melson, who was the Acting Director of ATF. Melson got a lawyer and voluntarily decided to meet with Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, on July 4th of this year. He said he was told by Justice Department officials to not respond to such requests from Congress. But he did it anyway. The next month he was transferred out of ATF and brought into the DOJ as an “advisor.”
After being challenged by Issa for his answer, Holder fired off a letter to Congress claiming that he had never read the memos, and that it was the responsibility of his staff to brief him on what they considered important.
Holder then went on to say that the reason the ATF was unable to prevent the weapons from being sold to the cartels was a lack of gun control and registration.
Issa responded to Holder, saying that “the American people have a right to know more, knowing that these guns were deliberately intended to end up in the hands of the drug cartels without any kind of traceability, except if you find a gun in the scene of the crime. That is the reason that it is felony and stupid—and I use the word ‘felony’ deliberately—program.”
He wrote that “Mexico’s Attorney General Marisela Morales, who stated that more than 200 Mexican citizens have been killed with Fast and Furious weapons, referred to the Obama administration plot as ‘an attack on Mexicans’ security.’”
Issa let Holder have it:
“Mr. Attorney General, you have made numerous statements about Fast and Furious that have eventually been proven to be untrue. Your lack of trustworthiness while speaking about Fast and Furious has called into question your overall credibility as Attorney General. The time for deflecting blame and obstructing our investigation is over. The time has come for you to come clean to the American public about what you knew about Fast and Furious, when you knew it, and who is going to be held accountable for failing to shut down a program that has already had deadly consequences, and will likely cause more casualties for years to come.”
“Operation Fast and Furious was the Department’s most significant gun trafficking case. It related to two of your major initiatives—destroying the Mexican cartels and reducing gun violence on both sides of the border. On your watch, it went spectacularly wrong. Whether you realize yet or not, you own Fast and Furious. It is your responsibility.”
Also, a group of ten Arizona sheriffs (5 Republican, 5 Democrat) have called for a special counsel to investigate the gunwalking operations, as has House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith.
The outcome of this scandal will have huge repercussions for years to come.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.