Documents detailing discussions between a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent and a White House National Security staffer concerning Operation Fast and Furious have been made public by the Obama administration, but reveal no new information about what top White House officials knew about the controversial investigation.
Released late Friday night, the documents include emails over a month-long period last year between William D. Newell, then-ATF special agent in charge of the Phoenix field division, and then-White House National Security staffer Kevin O’Reilly. In them, they discuss the progress of gun trafficking investigations along the U.S.-Mexico border and Mr. O’Reilly displays a keen interest in the topic.
While the emails outline an apparent close friendship between Mr. Newell and Mr. O’Reilly, they do not include any specific mentions or discussion of how the Fast and Furious program was handled, who directed it or what officials, if any, inside the Justice Department or White House knew about it. The words “fast and furious” do not appear in any of the emails, many of which are duplicates.
White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said in releasing the documents that internal National Security staff emails were not included because the Executive Office of the President “has significant confidentiality interests in its internal communications.” The letter was obtained Friday by Politico.
The undercover Fast and Furious probe monitored the purchase by straw buyers of hundreds of weapons at gun shops in Phoenix. Many of the guns, including AK-47 assault weapons and Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifles, eventually were transferred to others in Arizona and then later “walked” to drug cartel members in Mexico.
At least two AK-47 assault rifles purchased as a part of the probe turned up at the site of the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, killed by Mexican bandits just north of Nogales, Ariz.
President Obama has said he did not authorize the program and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who has also pleaded ignorance, has called for an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have been investigating the Fast and Furious operation for several months and have been stymied in their request for documents in the probe.
One of the released emails contains a flow chart showing that many of the weapons purchased in Arizona were headed to Mexico, although Mr. O’Reilly noted in another email that while the chart was “really interesting,” it was not a surprise. He said it implied that “different (drug trafficking organizations) in Mexico have very different and geographically distinct networks in the U.S. for acquiring guns.”
Mr. Newell responded by saying the agency discovered a “similar pattern” in south Texas, including the Houston metropolitan area, which was the source for firearms for various drug trafficking organizations.
There have been a number of changes at ATF since the Fast and Furious investigation became public.
Mr. Newell has since been reassigned, removed as the agent in charge in Phoenix and named as special assistant to the assistant director of ATF’s Office of Management in Washington. The agency described the move as a lateral transfer and not a promotion.
ATF also reassigned two other supervisors who were heavily criticized for pushing the Fast and Furious program forward. They are William G. McMahon, ATF’s deputy director of operations in the West, and David J. Voth, both of whom oversaw the Fast and Furious program out of the agency’s Phoenix office. Mr. McMahon was named the deputy assistant director of the ATF’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations, and Mr. Voth was moved to Washington to become branch chief for the ATF’s tobacco division.
ATF’s acting director, Kenneth E. Melson, was reassigned to the Justice Department’s office of legal programs, where he will assume a lesser role as senior adviser on forensic science; U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke in Arizona, who oversaw all federal prosecutions in the state, resigned, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor in the Fast and Furious investigation, was reassigned from the criminal division to the civil division.