Regarding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ Operation Fast and Furious (read NR’s previous coverage here), one of the biggest questions has been: Who knew what, and when? Several months ago, when it became known that Bill Newell, the ATF’s special agent in charge of the division that ran Fast and Furious, had corresponded with a national-security official inside the White House, some treated it as a smoking gun indicating that the scandal went all the way to the top.
Well, the text of that correspondence has been released, and it seems that it’s no smoking gun — as a White House spokesman said earlier, the e-mails pertain not to “gun walking” (the ATF’s alleged practice of watching traffickers buy guns and doing nothing to stop them), but to other law-enforcement efforts. There is some talk about guns that were trafficked from Arizona and recovered at crime scenes, but no admission that the ATF deliberately let those guns go despite having the ability to stop them. Of course, phone conversations could have covered information these e-mails do not — Newell indicates an awareness that he’s sharing information outside the usual channels, and even suggests talking on the phone at one point — but those conversations are probably not recoverable.
Newell brags about the guns his agents interdicted and the straw purchasers he’s planning to indict; he complains about the difficulty of convicting straw purchasers even when the case is airtight, and about how Mexico makes it hard for American law enforcement to get access to crime guns for evidence. At one point, Newell even comments about the fact that he, not ATF headquarters, is the one keeping the White House in the loop, suggesting that the upper reaches of the Obama administration might really have been as much in the dark as they now claim they were.
Obviously, around the time of these e-mails, Newell’s office was engaged in some pretty questionable behavior. But these e-mails present the image of a law enforcer genuinely trying to stop gun trafficking, and I see nothing in them that should have tipped the White House off that anything was wrong.