Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Operation Fast and Furious LIV

Three Fall Guys Won't Make Fast and Furious Go Away

by  A.W.R. Hawkins

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, Kenneth Melson, then-acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), was reassigned because of his involvement in the gunrunning operation known as Fast and Furious.  At the same time, it was announced that Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix, was resigning his post due to his involvement in Fast and Furious, and that federal prosecutor Emory Hurley would be moved from “the criminal division in the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix” to the civil division.

In other words, after 2,500 guns were bought with illegal intent, transferred to various criminals of one type or another, and used to kill well over 1,100 people to date, the Department of Justice announces that they’re going to deal firmly with three people who were involved in the operation by reassigning them and/or accepting their resignations.

Wow.  There are huge problems here.

For starters, it looks like these three are taking the fall for bigger fish higher up the administration food chain.

We know that ATF supervisors William McMahon and William Newell knew about Fast and Furious and were directly involved in it.  And we also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Attorney General Eric Holder knew about Operation Gunrunner, which ultimately morphed into Fast and Furious.  He bragged about his involvement in Gunrunner during a speech in Mexico on April 2, 2009.

Moreover, we know that one White House official was receiving regular updates on Fast and Furious.  That official, Kevin O’Reilly, security director for North America, was briefed on the operation when it was taking place.  And now we know that he wasn’t the only White House official being briefed.  The Los Angeles Times has uncovered e-mails that show Dan Restrepo, senior Latin America adviser, and Greg Gatjanis, another White House national security official, were also kept in the loop.

Yet, the ATF plays dumb, Holder claims he didn’t know about Fast and Furious until the spring of 2011, and President Obama just grins and says neither he nor Holder directly authorized such an operation.

And after all this, we’re supposed to feel like our government has done a good job policing itself because two people got re-assigned and an attorney quit his job?  (Moreover, the two ATF supervisors directly involved in Fast and Furious, McMahon and Newell, were actually promoted.)

Folks, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out something isn’t right here.  Even CBS News is starting to talk about the coverups involved with this operation.

This is all one big mess.  It’s a tangled web of death, law infractions and destruction that only gets uglier the more one looks into it.  And to make matters worse, the three people who appear to be taking the fall for the operation—Melson, Burke and Hurley—aren’t even facing criminal charges.

I bet there are a lot of people serving time in prison for far less serious gun-related crimes who wish they’d been able to resign or be reassigned instead of going to the big house.


White House e-mails refer to gun-trafficking operation

By Jerry Markonand Sari Horwitz

Newly released e-mails in the controversy over the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking operation show that the program had been mentioned to a White House official, but the un­or­tho­dox tactics used by federal agents were not revealed in the documents.
Congressional investigators looking into the operation have been probing whether high-level Obama administration officials were aware of Fast and Furious.
The e-mails reveal that William Newell, former head of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, briefed Kevin O’Reilly on the Obama administration’s broader operations against Mexican gun traffickers. O’Reilly, a State Department official who had been detailed to the National Security Council at the White House, then shared the information with two other officials, including Dan Restrepo, President Obama’s senior adviser on Latin America.
The e-mails, turned over by the Justice Department to congressional investigators and obtained by The Washington Post, did not include details of the Fast and Furious operation, an ambitious plan to follow guns bought by illegal “straw purchasers” through middlemen and into the hierarchy of the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel.
The exchanges add to a voluminous trail of documents and testimony in the long-running debate over Fast and Furious, which is the subject of a congressional investigation and an inquiry by the Department of Justice’s inspector general.
In one February e-mail to O’Reilly, Newell referred to Fast and Furious, the now-defunct operation that allowed some 2,000 illegally purchased firearms to hit the streets. The congressional inquiry began after it was revealed that a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in a gunbattle in which Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene.
Several other Newell e-mails referred to a large federal investigation along the southwest border. The e-mails did not specify the operation’s name, but U.S. officials said it probably was Fast and Furious.
Newell was clearly proud of his “very large ” case, but in one e-mail he made it clear he could not discuss details because it was an ongoing criminal investigation.
The e-mails “validate what we’ve said all along: that no one at the White House knew about the investigative tactics used in this operation, let alone letting anyone walk guns,’’ said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal communications.
Yet the disclosure of even peripheral White House involvement in the Fast and Furious imbroglio could ratchet up political pressure on the administration from congressional Republicans.
Becca Glover Watkins, a spokeswoman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said committee investigators are “examining the role of White House officials in Operation Fast and Furious, including concerns that their interactions with ATF personnel may have undermined the chain of command in a law enforcement operation and increased risks to public safety.’’
But it was unclear if the cascading revelations of who knew about the ill-fated operation would continue. U.S. officials said they have found no further evidence of any White House knowledge of Fast and Furious, and Obama has said that he and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. would never have approved the tactics used in the operation.
The officials characterized the e-mails between Newell and O’Reilly as a “back-channel communication” between two old friends who had worked together in the 1990s.
Paul Pelletier, a lawyer for Newell, who is now working at ATF headquarters in Washington, said Newell’s e-mails provided “public or soon-to-be public information about the state of gun trafficking along the southwest border. No operational plans were divulged.”
The e-mails follow a major shake-up at the Justice Department stemming from Fast and Furious. Kenneth E. Melson, acting director of the ATF, was reassigned to department headquarters this week. Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix, resigned, and one of his prosecutors has been reassigned.
Law enforcement officials have said no further high-level changes are planned, and Melson, another senior ATF official and Burke have told congressional investigators that senior Justice officials were unaware of the tactics used in Fast and Furious.
The single e-mail that mentions Fast and Furious by name, sent from Newell to O’Reilly in February, cites an indictment stemming from the operation that had already been publicly released. “The first attachment is the press release, which goes into some detail of the other cases,’’ Newell wrote. “The Fast and Furious indictment is listed under U.S. v. Avila . . . all of these have been unsealed, they were unsealed the day of the press conference.’’

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