Yesterday, I was on the Marc Steiner Show with Katherine Eban, author of Fortune magazine’s piece about Fast and Furious. I was able to raise with her some of the concerns that I mentioned in this post.
Regarding the e-mails between Justice officials that explicitly discuss gunwalking and Fast and Furious, Eban claimed that the e-mails were merely reports about guns that had been purchased, not conversations about guns that had “walked.” She must have thought I was talking about different e-mails than I was, because that’s simply untrue regarding the messages I cited in my post. I pulled up the exact words during the interview so I could read them on the air, but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to respond again on that particular issue.
Regarding the question of whether the ATF told gun dealers to sell weapons in situations where they normally wouldn’t, Eban teased this follow-up to her story, which is now live. Its analysis of one of the dealers, the Lone Wolf Trading Company, is somewhat compelling — while the owner of the store once claimed he was instructed to sell guns to whoever wanted them, he’d previously defended the ATF from allegations regarding Fast and Furious. It’s not clear why his story changed, and at the very least the new information throws his credibility into question.
Her claims about another incident are less convincing:
In August 2010, after a successful wiretap led Phoenix Group VII to seize 114 weapons in a single month, an employee at a gun dealership informed Group VII supervisor Dave Voth that one of their chief suspects was looking to purchase 20 “cop killer” 9 mm. pistols, which are able to penetrate body armor. Based on evidence it had gathered on the wiretap, the ATF had enough probable cause to immediately arrest the suspect if he purchased the weapons. So — in the only such instance known to date — Voth wrote back and asked the dealer to make this particular sale. Voth says he encouraged the sale so that the agents could arrest the suspect outside the gun dealership. In the end, however, the suspect did not make the purchase and the arrest did not take place. No evidence has emerged that Voth ever made such a statement to any other gun seller.
However, an e-mail from Voth to an unidentified dealer indicates that this was not an isolated incident (emphases added):
I understand that the frequency with which some individuals under investigation by our office have been purchasing firearms from your business has caused concerns for you. I totally understand and am not in a position to tell you how to run your business. However, if it helps put you at ease we (ATF) are continually monitoring these suspects using a variety of investigative techniques which I cannot go into detail. We are working in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office (Federal Prosecutors) to secure the most comprehensive case involving the Hfacets of this organization. If it puts you at ease I can schedule a meeting with the Attorney handling the case and myself to further discuss this issue. Just know that we cannot instruct you on how to run your business but your continued cooperation with our office has greatly aided the investigation thus far.
Subsequent e-mails from the dealer expressed concern about liability: The dealer was “hoping to put together something like a letter of understanding to alleviate concerns of some type of recourse againt us down the road for selling these items. We just want to make sure we are cooperating with ATF and that we are not viewed as selling to bad guys.” The dealer then set up a meeting with Voth and wrote, “We will continue handling the transactions as we have in the past until we meet.”
As I mentioned before, the ATF’s usual advice to gun dealers is to refuse to sell to anyone they suspect is buying illegally. And in the e-mail quoted above, Voth explicitly admits that he can’t force the dealer to make sales he’s uncomfortable with. But from this exchange it’s quite clear that Voth encouraged sales to suspects, and not just this one time when officers were waiting right outside the door.