Email Confirms 'Gunwalker' Known Throughout Justice Department

An email cited in Senator Charles Grassley’s testimony in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Operation Fast and Furious indicates that knowledge of the program was spread across the highest levels of the Justice Department. This lends even greater suspicion to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that he knew nothing about the program until well after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.

The October 27, 2009 email from ATF Phoenix Field Division Special Agent in Charge (SAC) William Newell regarded a Southwest Border Strategy Group meeting that focused on Fast and Furious. It contained a laundry list of high ranking Justice Department officials that attended the meeting, including:

  • Assistant Attorney General (Criminal Division) Lanny Breuer,
  • Kenneth Melson, Acting Director, ATF
  • William Hoover, Acting Deputy Director, ATF
  • Michele Leonhart, Administrator, DEA
  • Robert Mueller, Director FBI

Four other Justice Department directors or their representatives came from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), Bureau of Prisons (BOP), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA). The chair of the Attorney Generals Advisory Committee (AGAC) also attended the session. Their names were redacted in the released document. U.S. attorneys for all four southwest border states also attended.

Operation Fast and Furious, now known to many by the more accurate name of “Gunwalker,” was a multi-agency operation that allowed and -- in some instances -- approved the purchase of firearms destined for Mexican drug cartels by so-called “straw buyers.” The purchasers, who had clean criminal records, would buy firearms from U.S. gun stores for drug gangs. While most gun smuggling involves small quantities of weapons, a small number of high-volume straw purchasers each bought hundreds of firearms for the cartels.

ATF agents were told by their supervisors to ignore their agency’s charter and training and allow the guns to be smuggled into Mexico without interdiction. Roughly 2,000 firearms -- ranging from pistols and AK-pattern semi-automatic rifles to .50 BMG sniper rifles -- were smuggled into Mexico under Gunwalker and without the knowledge of Mexican authorities. Hundreds of smuggled weapons have turned up at crime scenes across Mexico and the U.S. border states and at least 152 law enforcement officers and soldiers have been killed with Gunwalker weapons.

While it has been known since the beginning of the investigation that the ATF, DOJ, DHS, and the IRS were heavily involved in Gunwalker, the Newell email confirms that every major agency within the Department of Justice was briefed on Gunwalker, including the AGAC, which has the formally ordered functions of giving U.S attorneys a voice in department policies and advising the attorney general.

It strains credibility to claim that the assistant attorney general, the AGAC, the directors of the five major DOJ agencies in charge of law enforcement, and all the U.S. attorneys in the Southwest region were privy to Gunwalker, but that the attorney  general himself was unaware of the operation. It suggests that either Holder is being untruthful about what he knew about the operation, and when he knew about it, or that he is so out of touch with a major operation conducted by his key law enforcement agencies that he is too incompetent to fulfill his official duties.