The Department of Justice improperly withheld public documents related to Fast and Furious after the first Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for them several years ago. The agency was recently forced to produce some of the materials to the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which filed a FOI lawsuit to obtain the information. (To date, the Justice Department still has not complied with FOI law in providing the same public documents to me as a FOI requestor.)
Fortunately, Judicial Watch has posted the documents for public review.
The Justice Department is still withholding thousands of documents. The thousands of documents provided are often heavily redacted. A review of hundreds of pages so far has revealed no obvious, legitimate basis under which President Obama should have invoked executive privilege, as he did, to withhold them public from congressional subpoena and other public reviews.
Clues as to why President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder kept the public documents secret for so long may be found in one 60-page release examined below. Nearly three years after-the-fact, its news value is diminished. If these documents had been turned over when Congress subpoenaed them or when they were first requested under FOI law, they would have revealed damaging information in the lead-up to President Obama's re-election in 2012. By exerting executive privilege, the President and Holder kept them hidden until the court challenge forced their release.
The reason for the 60-page grouping of materials isn't apparent. Documents that long predate Fast and Furious are mixed in with relevant documents. Redactions aren't justified or explained. Inexplicably, even Congressional testimony that had been publicly presented to Congress was included in documents withheld under President Obama's sweeping executive privilege.
Multi-Agency Participation in Fast and Furious
- There is evidence of widespread knowledge of and participation by several federal agencies in the controversial Fast and Furious gunwalking case that let traffickers put thousands of weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
- Agencies participating in Fast and Furious included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Phoenix Police Department.
- A January 2011 "Key Messages: Tasking Points" memo (p. 14) generated by the Public Affairs Division at ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. stated:
"The Fast and Furious investigation is just one of a number of firearms trafficking cases perfected by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force, a multi-agency team of investigators from ATF, DEA, ICE, IRS, and the Phoenix Police Department."
"In October 2009, Operation: Fast and Furious, an ATF lead OCDETF investigation into a firearms trafficking organization funded by the Sinaloa DTO, kicked off in Phoenix. Although this investigation was lead [sic] by ATF, it was a multi-agency effort involving DEA, ICE, IRS, and the Phoenix Police Department."
- The multi-agency participation makes Attorney General Holder's claim of ignorance of the the cross-border operation all the more perplexing and, assuming it's true, seemingly more egregious.
Justification for New Gun Control Regulations
- ATF's internal Public Affairs Talking Points show the agency was using Fast and Furious to help justify new gun control regulations--without telling the public that ATF was actually facilitating the delivery of weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
- The talking points (p. 15) state:
"These cases demonstrate the ongoing trafficking of firearms by Mexican DTO's and other associated groups operating in Arizona and the need for reporting of multiple sales for certain types of rifles in order to ferret out those intent on providing firearms to these criminal groups."
- While the Department of Justice was still insisting the gunwalking was a renegade operation conducted by rogue agents in Phoenix, the documents make clear ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. knew that weapons were being allowed to flow to Mexican drug cartels.
- For example, Fast and Furious began in October 2009. Washington D.C. talking points recount (p. 17) that:
"From October 2009 through October 2010, this organization, through the use of numerous straw buyers, purchased approximately 1.25 million dollars in firearms from FFLs [Federal Firearms License's] in the Phoenix area and trafficked the firearms into Mexico and other locations within the United States."
- Another example is an October 12, 2010 funding request to ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. (p. 40) from Phoenix Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell. It stated, in present tense (making clear that ATF was aware, in real time, that the weapons were being transported by ATF suspects to cartels on a continuing basis):
"The firearms are then being trafficked into Mexico using non-factory compartments in various vehicles through various Ports of Entry (POE's) in Arizona and Texas. Since the ATF case was initiated, agents have identified approximately twenty-seven straw purchasers who have purchased a large amount of AK-47 style rifles and pistols from various FFLs in the Phoenix Metropolitan area and Prescott, Arizona, since September 2009."
Millions of Dollars: Mission Not Accomplished?
- The documents hint at the cost of the umbrella program that was responsible for Fast and Furious: Project Gunrunner.
(p. 6) The FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act provided ATF with an "additional $5 million for Project Gunrunner."
(p. 7) The Stimulus plan provided ATF with $10 million more for Project Gunrunner.
(p. 29) ATF received $37.5 million for Project Gunrunner in the 2010 emergency supplemental appropriation for border security.
- The documents discuss that ATF developed Project Gunrunner in 2006 to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico and thereby deprive the narcotics cartels of weapons. (Instead, ATF agents helped deliver thousands of assault rifles and other weapons into cartel hands.)
- As ATF became better funded by tax dollars and better staffed, gun trafficking and drug cartel-related violence escalated.
Justice Dept. Withholding Statistics
The Justice Department has repeatedly refused Congressional and media requests for reports on the violent crimes in which "walked" guns have been used. The newly-released documents confirm ATF has meticulously collected and reported such data in the past (p.39). In a case called "Operation Zebra," ATF stated that 338 illegally purchased firearms were associated with 63 deaths: "18 law enforcement officer sand civilians, and 45 cartel gunmen."
A number of mysterious redactions remain in the 60-page document grouping. These include:
- (p. 15)
- (p. 30)
- (p. 39)
- (p. 40)
- (p. 43)
- (p. 52) Internal document dated Jan. 10, 2011 mentions Fast and Furious connection to Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's death, though the Justice Department had decided not to release that information to the public. The document contains redactions.