Michele Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, has sent a letter to congressional investigators admitting her agency played a role in a criminal investigation that turned into a de facto gun-smuggling operation run by federal law enforcement agencies.
In mid-July, Senator Charles Grassley and Representative Darrell Issa sent a pair of letters to the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, asking them to explain their alleged roles in Operation Fast and Furious and to provide specific communications relating to specific agents and managers in those respective organizations.
Fast and Furious is blamed for the deaths of approximately 150 Mexican law enforcement officers and soldiers, along with an unknown number of civilian casualties on both sides of the border. The program was only shut down after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in a nighttime desert firefight with criminals armed with at least two Fast and Furious-provided AK-pattern rifles.
The letters from Grassley and Issa were directed to FBI Director Robert Mueller and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. According to Richard Serrano of the Los Angeles Times, Leonhart has responded:
The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration has acknowledged to congressional investigators that her agency provided a supporting role in the ill-fated Operation Fast and Furious run by the group’s counterparts at the ATF.
Michele M. Leonhart, the DEA administrator, said DEA agents primarily helped gather evidence in cases in Phoenix and El Paso, and in the program’s single indictment last January that netted just 20 defendants for illegal gun-trafficking.
The development marks the first time another law enforcement agency has said it also worked on Fast and Furious cases other than the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is under two investigations into why it allowed at least 2,000 firearms to be illegally purchased and then lost track of the guns’ whereabouts.
Leonhart’s letter, dated July 22, insists that the DEA is conducting a review of the documentation that the congressional investigators have asked for, even though the agency has not turned over any of the communications at this time.
Leonhart claims that the DEA agents in El Paso and Phoenix were only “indirectly involved in the ATF operation through DEA-associated investigative activity,” and further absolves her agency by claiming that “DEA personnel had no decision-making role in an ATF operations” associated with Fast and Furious.
This claim appears to stand in stark contrast to claims made by the ATF special agent in charge (SAC) of the operation, William Newell, who stated in congressional testimony that the ATF, DEA, FBI, and IRS were all “full partners” in the operation.
It now appears that the “full partners” may be on the verge of a internecine feud to deflect responsibility from their agencies. Unfortunately, it is going to be very difficult for DEA Administrator Leonhart, FBI Director Mueller, and other directors in Eric Holder’s Justice Department to claim they had little or no knowledge of the operation when email records show that they were informed about the program in one or more briefings from ATF’s Newell.
Newell also admitted that he briefed a friend in the White House about the operation, a staffer on President Obama’s National Security Council named Kevin O’Reilly. The Obama administration is standing by its claim that while every director in federal law enforcement and NSC staffers were briefed, the White House knew nothing.
The White House continues to claim they did not know about the gunwalking operation while it was occurring, a position shared by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as his underlings seem primed to turn upon one another to keep from facing the political and legal consequences of the operation.
The potential for a rending conflict in the executive branch is not limited to the Justice Department.
Gunwalker took place in Arizona, where DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was both governor and state attorney general, using personnel the secretary had in her own state administration. It is highly unlikely that Gunwalker occurred on Napolitano’s “home turf” and one of her current areas of focus without her knowledge — or advice.
Even the most faithful of left-leaning media outlets are concerned that Gunwalker may eventually be a serious problem for President Obama:
Now that Republicans in Congress won important concessions from President Obama in the debt ceiling debate, the next partisan battle is likely to be over what promises to be the first major scandal of the Obama administration: the botched gun sting known as “Operation Fast and Furious.” The administration should waste no time and come clean about what happened, who approved it, and how it can be avoided again.
Unfortunately, the early signs are that Obama is going to handle this controversy as poorly as he handled the debt ceiling debate.
The writer of that sentiment, Adam Winkler of the Huffington Post, can’t seem to get his head around the fact that Gunwalker is more than a political headache; it’s a deadly serious legal one as well.
Being an accessory to murder is a felony in the United States and Mexico, and that is just one of the many possible criminal charges that federal agents, supervisors, political appointees, and elected officials may face in both U.S. and Mexican judicial systems (for example, the ATF’s Newell).
As Gunwalker continues to unravel, it will be interesting to see who comes forward to testify in exchange for reduced charges or immunity. The line to turn witness could be long, and every indication is that it will point to the highest levels of the Obama administration.