The scandal over the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Operation Fast and Furious,” also known as “Project Gunrunner,” is heating up quickly, and there now are predictions there will be charges.
That’s based on the testimony delivered this week before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Second Amendment analyst and investigative Internet journalist Mike Vanderboegh says the recipient of an indictment could be former Phoenix ATF Field Office Special Agent in Charge William Newell.
Vanderboegh says the charges could come from Newell denying his connections to the National Security Council’s Kevin O’Reilly and his allegedly false statements about what he said about the ATF operation in Mexico.
“You had several people who could speak to the issue of Mexico and it was a large and unwieldy panel, but I suspect they did that specifically because they knew that Newell was going to lie about what some of the other agents said,” Vanderboegh said.
The controversy is over a federal program to allow unqualified purchasers to buy weapons in the U.S. with the knowledge they would be taken to the drug gang wars in Mexico. The goal was to track the guns to the drug cartel leaders and then prosecute. However, the weapons instead vanished and later appeared at various crime scenes.
“I think Mr. Newell has some more dates with prosecutors and he won’t be presenting a case for somebody else’s indictment. He’s probably looking at an indictment of his own,” Vanderboegh added.
Gun Owners of America President Larry Pratt agreed, saying that Tuesday’s hearings could lead to Newell being charged with perjury.
“William Newell emails with this guy Kevin O’Reilly, Ph.D., on the National Security Council, and it was brought out that they had, in fact, been discussing Fast and Furious,” Pratt explained.
“Newell was a very mendacious, evasive sort of guy. But, he had been asked by Rep. Labrador if in these emails, ‘Did you discuss Fast and Furious,’” Pratt recounted.
“Newell said, ‘We didn’t have any specific conversations on Fast and Furious,’” Pratt said.
But Pratt added that the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., broke in and asked Newell to remove the word “specific.” After removing specific, Pratt says Newell’s answer was different.
“Newell then said, ‘Yes, we talked about it.’” Pratt added.
Listen to the interview with Pratt:
Vanderboegh agreed, saying that the emails discussed in the hearing document the contact.
“I wanted to talk to Newell’s Justice Department lawyers, that I wanted to talk to him about the O’Reilly e-mails,” Vanderboegh stated. “This was before they were brought up in the hearing.”
“What I went for was to make sure that they asked the question, that they asked about Newell’s relationship with O’Reilly, and under oath,” he said.
“Newell had to admit that he had snowed O’Reilly for eight years,” Vanderboegh stated. “If I was guessing I would say they probably met each other in Colombia, in Bogota when they were both on the drug war down there.”
“The emails, I haven’t seen them all yet, but they showed a couple. One of the attachments indicates that not only were they discussing operational details of Fast and Furious, but there was apparently a report that one of them asked the other one to give to (Acting ATF Director Kenneth) Melson,” Vanderboegh said.
“It was Dan Burton who I heard out in the hall talk about perjury. He believed Newell was committing perjury,” he said.
“There was one point there, and this may have been what Burton was referring to, that Newell said, ‘Oh yes, I told agent Canino about,’” Vanderboegh said.
“And of course he didn’t admit they were walking guns. ‘Yes, I told Agent Canino about this and that,’” he said.
“Canino came back at him every chance he got in the testimony and says, ‘I didn’t know this,’” he added.
“Well that’s perjury. When you say something that’s patently false under oath, it’s perjury,” Vanderboegh said.
Listen to the interview with Vanderboegh:
Pratt said Newell was so evasive during the questioning, he was almost “tap dancing.”
“He should be exhausted from an afternoon of tap dancing,” Pratt remarked.
Vanderboegh said that a committee member, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., became increasingly frustrated with Newell.
“What you won’t see on C-SPAN, is that Burton first became more and more frustrated, then finally, it didn’t meet the laugh test. He was there literally laughing every time Newell was asked another question,” Vanderboegh observed.
“It was hard for me not to laugh at Burton. He was shaking his head and leaning over and saying stuff to Issa and then Issa would grin and try to control his face,” Vanderboegh said.
Vanderboegh said he’s anticipating the next phase of the investigation.
“I can’t wait to see this stuff. It’s just pure dynamite. It takes Fast and Furious right up to the side door of the White House and the National Security Council,” Vanderboegh said.
Pratt says that former ATF Agent Darren Gil, who Vanderboegh says was fired after going public with details of Fast and Furious, seemed to give honest and clear testimony.
“Darren Gil impressed me as a ‘man of integrity,’ who respects the Constitution. Of all of them, he spoke the most vehemently against what had been done,” Pratt said.
“What if you had been put in the Phoenix office back in January of ’09 and it became clear what was going on,” Pratt related. “He said he would have shut it down right away. You wouldn’t have had a 30, 60, or 90-day exit strategy.”
Gil’s statements about an exit strategy were in contrast to the testimony by Newell and Special Agent William McMahon.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked about reports of an operation exit strategy.
“At some point, I’m talking about what we were just talking about, Special Agent Newell, there was a plan to shut this piece down, an exit strategy,” Cummings asked.
“I’m asking you to refer to what I just asked Special Agent McMahon about,” Cummings pressed.
Newell said, “Yes sir.”
Cummings asked, “What was the plan?”
“The plan was the end of July to present to the U. S. attorney’s office the evidence we believe we needed to secure the first round of indictments,” Newell responded.
“As the exit strategy said, ‘The 90-days, the 30-to-60-to-90 days was not a firm time, depending on what type of investigative materials or information we get, depending on each 30, to 60, to 90 day time frame,” Newell continued.
“So it was roughly about mid-August (2010) when we felt that we presented to the United States attorney’s office all the evidence we needed to secure a first round of indictments,” Newell continued further. “So in essence we probably went over a couple of weeks.”
Cummings asked ATF Assistant Director for Western Field Operations William McMahon if he approved going over the time frame for the exit strategy.
McMahon said he believed no “approval” was necessary.
“There was nothing to approve sir. I was getting updates from Bill (Newell) about his work with the U. S. attorney’s office,” McMahon said.
“So basically he said, ‘We need more time,’ you assumed he needed more time?” Cummings pursued.
“He’d give me a reason why he needed more time, correct,” McMahon said.
Pratt added that Gil said there should have been no need for an exit strategy or time limits.
“Gil said this program violated everything they had been taught. Gil testified, ‘All of the things we’re supposed to do were thrown out the door,’” Pratt said.
“In fact there was another agent that held up, like a pad of paper, and said, ‘We had a training manual,’” Pratt continued.
“He picked up the pad up as if he were putting it through a shredder and told the committee, ‘We just shredded the whole manual,’” Pratt added.