When the Watergate break-ins took place in 1972, President Richard Nixon knew nothing about them. But once he found out, he acted quickly to keep them secret, and it was his role in the cover-up that eventually led to his resignation in August 1974. Excerpts of recorded conversations between figures in the Operation Fast and Furious U.S.-Mexico gunrunning scheme are becoming ominously reminiscent of the 1970s watershed event in American politics.
In the historically monumental Watergate scandal, Nixon’s role in the cover-up was verified when he handed over personal tape recordings of conversations he’d had in the Oval Office on the subject.
That was 1974, and this is 2011, and in an eerie twist of fate, another batch of recordings has turned up that might reveal more about Fast and Furious than the current administration wants anyone to know: In fact, it might create more of a storm than Obama & Co. can weather.
The recordings, which seem to have been made in March 2011, are of conversations between Andre Howard, owner of Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, Ariz., and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent Hope McAllister. Lone Wolf was one of the gun stores used for Fast and Furious sales to straw purchasers.
Although the recordings have been turned over to congressional investigators and the Inspector General, excerpts that were released to the public make it sound like the gun dealer was extremely concerned that news of Fast and Furious was going to reach a House member or senator who would take action on it.
Howard’s concern arose from a March 9 letter from Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Tex.) and other members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder come clean about Fast and Furious. The House committee had been spurred into action by the testimony of ATF whistle-blower John Dodson.
Of the four excerpts released to the public, the first one best demonstrates the angst of those involved in the operation and the necessity for everyone, including Holder, to be sure their stories matched up:
HOWARD: “[Dodson’s] more toxic than you realize. I can tell you because I asked him, ‘How much of this f—–g file did you release?’ ”
McALLISTER: “Mmm hmm.”
HOWARD: “He said basically the underlying case file. I said, ‘Okay, who’d you release it to? F—–g [Sen.] Patrick Leahy!’ Okay? Wasn’t just [Sen. Chuck] Grassley, it was Leahy, alright? Leahy, as we both know, has adjourned this inquiry right now, okay, with no plans to reconvene it. So your people were successful to that end.” (Italics added.)
HOWARD: “Obviously that’s good. However these idiots from …”
McALLISTER: “… The House?”
HOWARD: “Yeah, and that I don’t know. What is troublesome with this [is] I expected [Rep.] Darrell Issa’s signature to be on this [but] it wasn’t. He’s your biggest thorn. He hates Holder.”
McALLISTER: “Yeah. Where’s he out of?”
HOWARD: “Darrell Issa?”
HOWARD: “Lamar Smith, you know’s, out of Texas, I don’t know. Holder has to respond to this tomorrow.”
McALLISTER: “Yeah, he’s gonna respond.”
HOWARD: “I know he is. And I assure you the media isn’t gonna like his response, because basically it’s gonna mirror what he’s told Grassley.”
HOWARD: “He can’t deviate.” (Italics added.)
McALLISTER: “Well if, I mean, I’ve seen a rough copy of what our U.S. attorney here has sent up. Whether or not he has the balls to actually use it or not, I doubt it. But I mean, it’s pretty aggressive. The way I see it, our local U.S. attorney is extremely aggressive. [But] when it gets to D.C. …”
HOWARD: “Who, [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Emory [Hurley]?”
McALLISTER: “No, the U.S. attorney.”
HOWARD: “Burke, yeah, used to work under Clinton. …Talking about [Dennis] Burke?”
McALLISTER: “Mmm hmm.”
HOWARD: “Yeah, well …”
McALLISTER: “But the problem is, once it gets to D.C., it just gets … well, you know.”
HOWARD: “Discombobulated—that’s a good term for it. Yeah, I get that.”
Even from a cold transcription, it’s evident that Howard is as nervous as a cat about Fast and Furious becoming public knowledge. It’s also evident that McAllister is confident of how U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke had handled things, but not very confident about how things will go once everything is shifted to D.C. It is important to note that Burke was the one who tried to cover up the ties between the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Fast and Furious. He retired last month without facing any criminal prosecution for his role in the mess.
Interesting too, is that as Howard wraps up the first excerpt of the recordings, it appears he understood how widespread the federal involvement in Fast and Furious had been. He knew that it wasn’t just the ATF, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI too:
HOWARD: “Let me tell you, you got more people out there now talking about this f—–g thing than anything I’ve ever seen. … People are not shutting the hell up … and that goes from DHS to f—–g FBI to everybody. I’m hearing it hypothetically on every fringe.”
Judging from the tenor of these recordings, particularly the consternation on the part of Howard, these excerpts may only scratch the surface of the immensity of the crimes hidden behind the door marked Fast and Furious.