Gunwalker: Did Bush Walk Guns, Too?

After a damning series of documents revealed that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other top Department of Justice officials were aware of the fact that Operation Fast and Furious walked thousands of guns into Mexico, the Obama administration pushed back through Associated Press reporter Pete Yost, attempting to divert the blame to -- who else? -- George Bush:

The federal government under the Bush administration ran an operation that allowed hundreds of guns to be transferred to suspected arms traffickers -- the same tactic that congressional Republicans have criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for using, two federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday.


When Bush, a Republican, was president, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Tucson, Ariz., used a similar enforcement tactic in a program it called Operation Wide Receiver. The fact that there were two such ATF investigations years apart in separate administrations raises the possibility that agents in still other cases may have allowed guns to "walk."

The "two federal law enforcement officials" are anonymous Department of Justice employees attempting to find a way of avoiding responsibility for their roles in authorizing what appears to be criminal acts associated with Operation Fast and Furious and related programs. But let's skip that to get at the meat of their "Bush did it" defense.

First, as any child above the age of six can tell you, "two wrongs don't make a right." If someone else breaks a law, that does not mean you have carte blanche to run amok and violate federal laws and international agreements with reckless abandon. If this is the only defense that the Justice Department can devise -- besides Eric Holder's "I didn't understand the question" -- then they must be in very, very deep trouble. But let's look at the claim parroted uncritically by Yost all the same.

A series of emails between two Department of Justice officials -- Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division, and Deputy Chief of the National Gang Unit James Trusty -- bring operation Wide Receiver to our attention. It is referred to as "the Tucson case" in the following exchange:

Looks like we'll be able to unseal the Tucson case sooner than the Fast and Furious (although this may be just the difference between November and December). It's not clear how much we're involved in the main F and F case, but we have Tucson and now a new, related case with [redacted] targets.

Reading this email from Trusty to Weinstein, Wide Receiver does not seem to be discussed as an artifact of the Bush administration that concluded in 2007. They speak of this case as a contemporaneous affair, along with Operation Fast and Furious (which was active at the time) and the "new, related case." In a related email (at the link), Weinstein mentions these cases represent "a significant set of prosecutions."

But Yost's article says this:

Federal law enforcement officials familiar with the matter say Operation Wide Receiver began in 2006 after the agency received information about a suspicious purchase of firearms. The investigation concluded in 2007 without any charges being filed.

After Obama took office, the Justice Department reviewed Wide Receiver and discovered that ATF had permitted guns to be transferred to suspected gun traffickers, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the practice is under investigation by Congress and the Justice Department inspector general’s office.

During the time Fast and Furious was running, senior DOJ officials seemed to be referring to Wide Receiver as a current event, and yet the anonymous DOJ officials -- perhaps Lanny Breuer and David Voth -- refer to 2007 and say Wide Receiver ended without any charges being filed.

The two stories being told about Wide Receiver don't add up, and it may be worth asking if the version of Wide Receiver talked about contemporaneously by Trusty and Weinstein as a case leading to prosecutions is the same Wide Receiver run under the Bush administration that closed without charges being filed.