The “Fast and Furious” gunrunning probe is creeping closer to the Obama White House. It appears administration officials were willing to sign off on just about anything to accomplish their ends, and the result of this botched operation has has been over a hundred dead. Someone needs to be held accountable.
On Friday, the administration reluctantly released new and incriminating documents showing then-Special Agent William Newell with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had discussed details of Fast and Furious in a series of emails with White House National Security Council staff member Kevin O'Reilly. In one of the communications, Mr. Newell gave Mr. O'Reilly a heads-up about an upcoming press conference announcing indictments in a dozen “straw purchaser” firearms trafficking cases and a Gun Runner Impact Teams performance report containing statistics on investigations.
The congressional probe is no longer limited to just the ATF. Early on, the White House denied it had any knowledge of the gunrunning program. Agent Newell, who headed the Phoenix, Ariz., office from which the scheme’s operations were directed, contradicted that claim when he testified on Capitol Hill in July. The just-released emails reveal that not only did briefings on the shady gambit reach inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but the information provided was extensive.
On its face, the ATF’s plan made no sense. Agents directed U.S. gun stores to sell semi-automatic rifles to front men who then smuggled the weapons into Mexico for resale to drug cartels. Agents were supposed to follow the firearms all the way to the lairs of the drug kingpins - except they had no realistic means of doing so. Thus, thousands of the guns have fueled bloody drug crimes south of the border.
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, who is leading the House probe of the operation, has characterized the endeavor as “felony stupid.” Mr. Issa estimated the number of murders committed with Fast and Furious weapons at around 150, including the shooting death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed in December while on duty.
The Justice Department is stonewalling. Mr. Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican, in September accused Justice Department Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar of obstructing their investigation by failing to listen to secret tape recordings corroborating wrongdoing on the part of ATF agents and instead handing the tapes over to the targets of the probe. Justice countered that the tapes were given to the U.S. Attorney’s office in accordance with department rules.
Despite the grudging release of emails, the O Force is circling the wagons. Agent Newell has been transferred to a desk job in Washington, where presumably he is under the watchful eye of superiors, and Mr. O'Reilly has been sent abroad on an assignment for the State Department - to Iraq.
While Republicans seek accountability for the Fast and Furious debacle, survivors of the operation’s victims are left to wonder if there is any difference between the bad guys and the good guys in the era of Obama justice. It’s an open question.