Washington (CNSNews.com) – At least one person in the White House knew about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gun-running operation three months before weapons from the botched sting were found at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
That’s what a high-ranking ATF official told Congress on Tuesday.
William Newell, the former ATF special agent in charge of the Phoenix field office, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he communicated with Kevin O'Reilly, a staffer on President Obama’s National Security Council, about Operation Fast and Furious in September 2010.
By that time, at least one thousand guns straw-purchased in the U.S. had been transferred to Mexican criminals under the noses of ATF officials who intended, but failed, to track them to see where they’d end up.
Under Operation Fast and Furious, which began in September 2009, the ATF allowed some 2,000 guns to “walk” to Mexican drug cartels. The operation was halted in December 2010 after two of the guns were found in Arizona, at the place where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered.
A Sept. 3, 2010 e-mail from Newell to O’Reilly, obtained by the House committee, begins, “You didn’t get this from me.”
“What did you mean by that? ‘You didn’t get this from me?’” Rep. Terry Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Newell.
“It means you didn’t get this from me,” Newell replied.
Pressed by Gowdy, Newell said, “Obviously he (the NSC’s O’Reilly) was a friend of mine, and I shouldn’t have been sending that (e-mail) to him."
“Was it an improper communication?” Gowdy wondered.
“It wasn’t improper,” Newell said. “He’s been a friend of mine for a long time. He asked me for information.”
Newell indicated that the information he sent O’Reilly was not confidential. The email included two attachments outlining what the ATF would say about the gunrunning operation at a press conference that never actually happened.
Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) followed up: “Why do you think he (O’Reilly) asked for that information?”
Newell said O’Reilly “was asking about the impact of Project Gunrunner to brief people in preparation for a trip to Mexico about what we were doing to combat firearms trafficking and other issues.”
The committee is trying to find out who ultimately is responsible for the botched gun-tracking operation and who knew what, when.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee in May that he had learned about the operation in the “last few weeks.”
The White House has not answered CNSNews.com’s question about when President Obama first learned about Operation Fast and Furious.
At a June 29, 2011 press conference, Obama told reporters, “As you know, my attorney general has made clear he certainly would not have ordered gun running to pass through into Mexico.”
Obama noted that an investigation conducted by the Justice Department’s inspector-general is still ongoing. “I’m not going to comment on the current investigation. I’ve made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF, and we’ve got to find out how that happened. As soon as the investigation is complete, appropriate action will be taken,” Obama said.
Even before the botched gun-tracking operation came to light, Obama, Holder and other high-ranking administration officials talked about the need to curb the alleged flow of guns from the United States into Mexico.
During a joint press conference on April 16, 2009 in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama talked about gun-tracing, calling it an area “where I think that we can make some significant progress.”