Monday, September 10, 2012



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Fast & Furious: Who knew what?
September 09, 2012 12:00 am •
Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star

The Justice Department's internal investigator is poised to release a
long-awaited report on Operation Fast and Furious that could answer
some of the big remaining questions about the controversial Arizona
gun-trafficking investigation.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz and his staff have taken more than a
year to look into the operation, in which hundreds of guns were allowed
to flow from Phoenix-area gun stores to suspected criminals in Mexico.
If the current schedule holds, the report will be released before
Horowitz testifies at a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday
(See story on C2).

The committee itself has issued several reports about Operation Fast
and Furious, the most recent a 209-page account put out July 31. But in
that report, the authors complain that congressional investigators have
not had the same access to interview people or review documents that
the inspector general had.

Now the many critics of the operation wonder if it will resolve any of
the key questions on the gun-trafficking investigation that was
revealed after the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. On Dec.
14, 2010, the Tucson Sector agent was shot and killed west of Rio Rico,
and the group of suspected bandits who shot at agents left two guns
purchased by a Fast and Furious suspect.

In a written statement, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who initially
revealed the "gun-walking" aspect of Fast and Furious, said Terry's
family members "deserve better than the treatment they've thus far
received from the Justice Department.

"There are also some pretty heavy questions that have yet to be
answered about who approved Operation Fast and Furious and who turned a
blind eye and allowed the program to continue. These are important
answers that will help us make sure something so stupid never happens

How high did knowledge of and responsibility for Operation Fast and
Furious go?

It's a question that Terry's family has pressed as investigators for
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Grassley probed Operation Fast
and Furious.

The results so far: The highest Justice Department official who knew
about so-called "gun-walking" in Arizona was Assistant Attorney General
Lanny Breuer, the chief of the department's criminal division. However,
what Breuer was learned of in April 2010 was Operation Wide Receiver,
an earlier, Tucson-based investigation in which federal investigators
also allowed traffickers to take guns across the border into Mexico
while trying to bring down a group of gun-runners.

Grassley has called on Breuer to resign, in part because, even after
Breuer learned of it, he did nothing to stop investigators from letting
criminals traffic guns to Mexico.

The other high-ranking administration official to have learned of
Operation Fast and Furious was Kevin O'Reilly, a national security
staff member in the White House. Emails written in 2010 show that
William Newell, then the special agent in charge of the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Phoenix office, told
O'Reilly about Fast and Furious.

The administration refused to let congressional investigators interview

For some conservative critics of the Obama administration, tying
Operation Fast and Furious more directly to the White House is the
dreamed-of objective. A group called The Conservative Caucus is
offering a $100,000 reward for information showing that the White House
was involved in Fast and Furious as an effort to further a gun-control

What's the responsibility of federal prosecutors in Arizona?

Investigations so far have revealed that one of the central problems
that led to Fast and Furious was a misinterpretation of the
gun-trafficking laws by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor in the case,
insisted on a higher standard of proof than the law required, the July
31 congressional report says. It wasn't enough evidence of a crime,
Hurley told agents during the investigation, that ATF agents saw
suspects buy guns, swear on a form that they themselves were the
intended customers, then immediately transfer them to other people.

"ATF had to have possession of the straw-purchased firearm" under
Hurley's understanding of the law, "even if the whole reason for the
prosecution was that the gun had been trafficked to Mexico following a
straw purchase," the congressional report says.

The Justice Department refused to allow Hurley to speak with
congressional investigators. The congressional committee subpoenaed his
supervisor, criminal division chief Patrick Cunningham, but Cunningham
asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and
refused to testify.

Their boss, then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, resigned in August 2011
after interviews he gave to the Inspector General's Office in which he
admitted leaking a document critical of a whistle-blower in the case.

What will the ultimate consequences be for the agents and attorneys

Many of the ATF agents involved in the case have been reassigned, and
the then-acting-director, Kenneth Melson, has resigned. But none has
been fired.

Hurley was taken off the case but remains a U.S. Attorney's Office
lawyer in the civil division.

It's one of the chief goals of Brian Terry's family to hold accountable
those responsible for the ill-conceived investigation, said Robert
Heyer, a cousin of Terry who has established a charity in his name, the
Brian Terry Foundation.

"Supervisors in ATF, people in the U.S. Attorney's Office, and
potentially supervisors in DOJ, you would think would need to be held
accountable for the decisions made that put Americans at risk," he said
while in Tucson last week.

But he warned, "The inspector general can only present findings and
make recommendations. Ultimately the attorney general decides who is
held accountable and in what manner."

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 520-807-8427 or

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