The Gun Walker Cover Up Unravels


The Gun Walker investigative team of Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Charles Grassley announced yesterday that their probe into this almost unbelievable scandal will be growing wider.  They’ve got evidence of a cover-up at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to pursue, as reported by CBS News – which deserves kudos for being the mainstream news organized most determined to get to the bottom of this story:

Congressional investigators tell CBS News there’s evidence the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona sought to cover up a link between their controversial gunwalking operation known as “Fast and Furious” and the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Terry was murdered in Arizona near the US border last December. Two assault rifles ATF had allegedly allowed onto the street without interdiction were found at the scene. 

But the US Attorney’s office working both the Terry murder and the “Fast and Furious” operation did not immediately disclose the two had any link. Two Republicans investigating the scandal, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) say there’s evidence that officials at ATF and the US Attorney’s office sought to hide the connection.

In a letter, Grassley and Issa say the lead prosecutor on Fast and Furious, Assistant US Attorney Emory Hurley, learned almost immediately that guns allowed onto the street in his case, had been recovered at Terry’s murder. “(I)n the hours after Agent Terry’s death,” says the letter from Grassley and Issa, Hurley apparently “contemplated the connection between the two cases and sought to prevent the connection from being disclosed.” The Justice Department recently transferred Hurley out of the criminal division into the civil division.

That’s not all Hurley did, according to the letter from Issa and Grassley:

Witnesses have reported that AUSA Hurley may have stifled ATF agents’ attempts to interdict weapons on numerous occasions.  Many ATF agents working on Operation Fast and Furious were under the impression that even some of the most basic law enforcement techniques typically used to interdict weapons required the explicit approval of your office, specifically from AUSA Hurley.  It is our understanding that this approval was withheld on numerous occasions.  It is unclear why all the available tools, such as civil forfeitures and seizure warrants, were not used in this case to prevent illegally purchased guns from being trafficked to Mexican drug cartels and other criminals.  We have further been informed that AUSA Hurley improperly instructed ATF agents that they needed to meet unnecessarily strict evidentiary standards merely in order to temporarily detain or speak with suspects.

Issa and Grassley describe U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke’s refusal to grant crime victim status to the family of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, in the trial of Gun Walker straw buyer Jaime Avila, as “disquieting.”  Such status would be granted to people like the Terry family as a matter of routine in any other case… but in this particular case, it would constitute the official admission of a crime that would suck in a lot of alphabet-soup federal agencies.

“We find it difficult to understand why anyone would oppose the Terry family’s motion on the grounds that there is potentially no connection at all between the case against Mr. Avila and the case against Agent Terry’s murderers.”  Said murderers were armed with guns the ATF pushed into Mr. Avila’s hands.  It only took four hours to bag and tag Avila after weapons from the Terry murder scene were linked to the Obama Administration’s little adventure in pumping up gun-crime statistics.  (We’re far past the point of pretending this was just a bizarre ATF operation gone wrong, as other agencies from the Justice Department and FBI to the IRS have been involved, and White House links have been established.)

This shreds earlier ATF claims that there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest their straw buyers in a timely manner, and as Issa and Grassley put it, shows that the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office “understood the nexus between Mr. Avila and the Terry murder instantly.”  Memos unearthed by Congressional investigators reinforce this assertion. 

“Clearly, your office and ATF did not suddenly develop probably cause to arrest Avila in the hours after Agent Terry died,” the letter to AUSA Scheel states.  “Your office could have done so much earlier, perhaps even before Avila purchased the weapons that were later found at the murder scene.  In light of this information, it appears that your office has a direct interest in avoiding or minimizing these facts.”

One of the reasons Issa and Grassley came to this conclusion is a December 2010 email from ATF supervisor David Voth, announcing that Avila would be charged with “a standalone June 2010 firearms purchase” where he used false information, because “this way we do not divulge our current case (Fast & Furious) or the Border Patrol shooting case.”  Operation Fast & Furious was the ATF gun-walking operation run out of its Arizona office.  There were others… but this one supplied a weapon that became involved in the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, which is most likely the only reason the Gun Walker project stopped, and Americans found out about it.

One of the people who received this email was the William Newell, the ATF Special Agent in Charge who discussed the broad outlines of ATF gun walking through pet “straw buyers” with his good buddy and White House staffer Kevin O’Reilly.  He didn’t mention Operation Fast and Furious by name, but he did begin one of his emails – handed over to Congress by whistleblowers – with “You didn’t get this from me.”  Oh, yes he did.

Newell, by the way, just got promoted.  He’s off to Washington to serve as a special assistant to the ATF’s Office of Management.

The L.A. Times has uncovered other links between the Gun Walker debacle and the White House, and in this case, the name of Operation Fast and Furious was invoked:

Newly obtained emails show that the White House was better informed about a failed gun-tracking operation on the border with Mexico than was previously known.

Three White House national security officials were given some details about the operation, dubbed Fast and Furious. The operation allowed firearms to be illegally purchased, with the goal of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels. But the effort went out of control after agents lost track of many of the weapons.

The supervisor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation in Phoenix specifically mentioned Fast and Furious in at least one email to a White House national security official, and two other White House colleagues were briefed on reports from the supervisor, according to White House emails and a senior administration official.

Off-the-record butt-covering was provided by nameless “senior administration officials,” who claim the emails “did not prove that anyone in the White House was aware of the covert ‘investigative tactics’ of the operation.”  It’s always amazing to learn how much the Administration that claims superior wisdom and knowledge over every aspect of the American economy claims it doesn’t know.

In addition to the Brian Terry murder, those Fast and Furious guns have popped up at no less than 11 violent crime scenes in the United States – and we’re not just talking about a couple of pistols.  The L.A. Times reports on a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Senator Grassley and his Democrat colleague on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont:

Weich said that although the “ATF does not have complete information” on all of the lost guns, “it is our understanding that ATF is aware of 11 instances” beyond the Border Patrol agent’s killing where a Fast and Furious firearm “was recovered in connection with a crime of violence in the United States.”

Justice Department officials did not provide any more details about the crimes or how many guns were found.

But a source close to the controversy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said that as early as January 2010, just after the operation began, weapons had turned up at crime scenes in Phoenix, Nogales, Douglas and Glendale in Arizona, and in El Paso. The largest haul was 40 weapons at one crime scene in El Paso.

In all, 57 of the operation’s weapons were recovered at those six crime scenes, in addition to the two seized where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed. 

Is the Gun Walker cover-up worse than the crime?  It’s hard to tell.  We haven’t finished tallying up the body count from the crimes yet.