Sunday, September 4, 2011

White House Officials Knew Of 'Fast and Furious'

From Politico ~ At least three White House officials had some knowledge of a controversial federal gun-running investigation that resulted in a large number of guns falling into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, according to emails the Justice Department sent to Congress.

However, the emails do not indicate that the White House aides were briefed on the most controversial aspect of Operation Fast and Furious: the practice of allowing guns to “walk” or move across the border with little or no interference by law enforcement officials despite their suspicions that the guns were headed for drug gangs.

The new emails, delivered to Congress Thursday night, show contacts between William Newell, the head of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Kevin O’Reilly, who served as director for North American affairs on the White House National Security Staff. O’Reilly, in turn, briefed Dan Restrepo, the NSS senior director for the Western Hemisphere, and Greg Gatjanis, director for Counterterrorism and Counternarcotics, White House officials confirmed Friday.
The emails were first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

“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,” said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While the emails don’t contain tactical details of the operation, they do show that the White House was in frequent direct contact with the ATF officials directly involved in Fast and Furious. The exchanges also suggest that ATF officials in Phoenix thought White House officials shared their goals and were acutely interested in the bureau’s work aimed at tackling the flow of guns into Mexico.

Newell seemed eager to keep his back-channel communications with the White House away from officials at ATF headquarters, whom he suggested weren’t performing well.

“Just don’t want ATF HQ to find out, since this is what they should be doing [briefing you],” the ATF Phoenix chief wrote.

When Newell wrote to O’Reilly in February with details of an indictment in Fast and Furious, the White House staffer seemed enthusiastic, proposing to try to get Newell on Spanish-language TV to talk about it.

“Would ATF be willing to put you or others in front of US media that gets pickup in Mexico to tell this story?” Newell wrote.

Fast and Furious appears to have been aimed at figuring out who was purchasing guns from legal dealers in the U.S. and tracking how the weapons ended up with Mexican cartels.

During the the operation, as many as 2,000 guns that agents suspected were headed to the cartels traveled to Mexico. The investigative tactics caused internal dissent at ATF. The discord broke into the open after two guns from the operation were discovered at the scene of the shooting death of a Border Patrol agent in Arizona last December.

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