Fast and Furious Breaks Down (29)

After whistleblower Dodson first contacted Senator Grassley, months went by, and in December of 2010 a border patrol agent named Brian Terry was killed on the American side. At the crime scene the bad guys left behind two weapons which, lo and behold, turned out to have been peddled, along with hundreds of others, through Operation Fast and Furious. Supposedly, the program was shut down in the following month. At the end of January, Grassley wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. But in May, Holder told the House Judiciary committee that he’d only known about the whole problem for a few weeks, which turned out to be a big fat fib. By August 2011, Holder had put the Inspector General on the case (the same office that had persistently ignored Dodson) while he himself was being investigated by both houses of Congress. Imagine that — the Justice Department itself was under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the ATF’s William Newell was one of the first people questioned by Sen. Grassley, and his attitude was, “Gun-walking? What gun-walking?” This was the same ATF agent who had disregarded Jay Dobyns’s pleas for protection when he was (or was not) in danger from vindictive motorcyclists. Newell was up to his neck in Fast and Furious, and his former boss, ATF Deputy Assistant Director William McMahon, was in pretty deep too. According to Dobyns, who was interviewed by Katie Pavlich for her book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up, an agent named George Gillett was also “intimately involved.”

Apparently, the interpretation Dobyns gave is that he was Newell’s test monkey. Whatever outrageousness Newell was allowed to get away with in manipulating Dobyns, would determine how far he would dare to go next. Silence from Newell’s higher-ups implied “the sky’s the limit,” and gave him the green light for the much greater atrocities of Fast and Furious, like claiming under oath that he never let guns walk into Mexico. In a larger sense, Dobyns is probably right. He was the first but not the only person to realize that if hoodlums like his bosses (and himself ) had been reined in sooner, a lot of trouble could have been avoided. He convinced Pavlich, who wrote,

“If ATF had taken steps to hold Newell, Gillett, McMahon and others responsible for their irresponsible actions surrounding the Dobyns case, Fast and Furious wouldn’t have happened, but because ATF openly rewards bad behavior and corruption, Fast and Furious was utterly predictable.”

Try this on for size: If ATF had taken steps to hold Ciccone, Torres, Castro-Silva and others responsible for their irresponsible actions surrounding the Fabricant case, Fast and Furious wouldn’t have happened. The parallels are everywhere. The ATF shot-callers don’t differentiate between lower-level government employees and feral bikers; they’re all just pawns in the game.

At this point, all anybody knew was that Fast and Furious originated with the Phoenix office. Then in October some memos turned up and uh-oh, apparently Attorney General Holder knew about it at least a year previous to what he was copping to. In November, Holder appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and admitted for the first time that yes, there was gun-walking. The following month, the FBI director found it necessary to testify that his agency was certainly not helping with any cover-up of anything related to the death of Agent Terry at the border.

Rep. Darrell Issa was chair of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. As 2012 rolled in, Issa raised hell because his committee had only received less than one-tenth of the documents they subpoenaed from the Justice Department. And what they did get was all blacked out. Plus, no access to witnesses. These things happen even to a Congressman! The Justice Department threw all blame for Fast and Furious onto Arizona’s U.S. Attorney and the ATF. Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee and said there was no cover-up. By now, a lot of people were wondering who knew what, and when they knew it.

President Obama backed up his Attorney General’s right to hold onto his paperwork, subpoena or no subpoena. The House of Representatives pushed back by making the Attorney General the first cabinet member in history to be held in criminal and civil contempt of Congress. Everybody got sidetracked into issues about the withholding of documents, and marveled over the amazingly rapid succession of changes in bureaucratic staffs, and lost sight of the basic stupidity of Fast and Furious.

Such a spectacular clusterfuck will present any agency with the opportunity to settle grudges and rid itself of dead wood. There must be sacrificial goats. And now and then, a remorseful bureaucrat will take a hit for the team, and quit under a cloud of suspicion. In August 2012, a Congressional Oversight Joint Staff Report report laid the blame for Fast and Furious on several individuals.

Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke had already quit, after admitting that he leaked memos to discredit the unruly Dodson. William Newell had already been moved from Phoenix to another ATF post. William McMahon, who had been Newell’s supervisor, was in Washington watching over the ATF’s ethics, as the head of Professional Responsibility. Kenneth Melson, who had been the ATF’s Acting Director, told investigators that some of criminals targeted by Fast and Furious could never be indicted, because they were confidential informants employed by the DEA and FBI (just as the unindictable Mike Kramer was employed by the ATF.) Melson also told them exactly what papers to ask for: the wiretap applications, which would prove that a whole bunch of officials had known about Fast and Furious for quite some time. Issa and Grassley considered these documents to be the “smoking gun” of the case. Over at the DOJ, they created a sinecure for Melson, but he didn’t last long and soon retired.

The ATF’s former deputy director William Hoover, who seems to have made an effort to end Fast and Furious, was first reassigned and then retired. Mark Chait, former Assistant Director for Field Operations, was demoted. Supervisor David Voth, who also came in for censure, had been promoted. A Deputy Assistant Attorney General named Weinstein had resigned. Despite the promises Obama and Holder made to clean house, they don’t seem to have actually fired anyone.

The Acting Inspector General of the DOJ, Cynthia Schnedar, quit too, in the spring of 2012. But the Justice Department had a new Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, and in September he told the House Oversight committee that the ATF seriously needs reform and control. On paper, the ATF agents who went public with their stories were supposedly exonerated. And what about the higher-ups who retaliated against the whistleblowers, will they be punished? Horowitz said the agency would look into it. Tattling to outsiders is called “jumping the chain of command” because the only person you’re supposed to complain to is your immediate superior, and of course that is not only useless but self-destructive. The ATF hates whistleblowers as much as ever, and its new acting director has warned his employees that they will toe the line and do things the ATF way or suffer the consequences.

Fast and Furious busted a few straw purchasers and not a single drug lord. It only proved how easy it is to sell guns to Mexican bandits. Well, duh! As for whoever thought up Fast and Furious, that’s still a mystery, and so is who authorized it.

About Pat Hartman

I write. Please see the page "How I Inherited a Hells Angel"
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