Scandal: A former ATF special agent tells Congress a National Security Council staffer was informed about Operation Fast and Furious before guns allowed into Mexico wound up at the murder scene of a U.S. agent.
The latest evidence that both the White House and attorney general knew and approved of Project Gunrunner and its deadly offshoot, Operation Fast and Furious, came this week in the testimony of William Newell, ATF special agent in charge of the Phoenix office, before Rep. Darrell Issa's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
That the "stench of cover-up," as Fox News analyst Brit Hume described the administration's handling of the matter, may reach even into the Oval Office itself was evidenced by Newell's testimony that he communicated with Kevin O'Reilly, a staffer on President Obama's National Security Council, about Operation Fast and Furious in September 2010.
O'Reilly was national security director for North America tasked with monitoring the activities of Mexican drug cartels. We are asked to believe he inquired about a program that was providing the cartels with guns but kept what he found out to himself.
That date, by the way, is three months before weapons permitted to "walk" into Mexico were found at the scene in Arizona were U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered. Newell said O'Reilly had inquired about the status of Project Gunrunner to brief administration officials before a trip to Mexico.
Newell sent O'Reilly the requested information with the caveat, "You didn't get this from me."
Why was a National Security Council staffer asking about an operation that no one in the upper echelons of the administration was supposed to be aware of? We find it hard to believe it was for O'Reilly's personal amusement. Why would Newell request that he not be acknowledged as the source?
Certainly the whole area of drug cartels, cross-border violence and gun trafficking are matters of national security. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made a cause celebre of blaming the easy access to U.S. weapons for Mexican violence.
Are we to believe neither the White House nor the Department of Justice knew about a program that made that access even easier?
Administration officials have taken the Sgt. Schultz "we knew nothing" approach to any inquiries, only to be tripped up by their own words and actions.
Newell's email to O'Reilly is evidence that at least one person in the White House did.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee in May that he learned about the operation in the "last few weeks." In fact, as we've noted, Holder himself gave a speech to Mexican authorities in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on April 2, 2009, taking credit for Gunrunner as well as Fast and Furious for himself and the Obama administration.
Holder told the audience: "Last week, our administration launched a major new effort to break the backs of the cartels. My department is committing 100 new ATF personnel to the southwest border in the next 100 days to supplement our ongoing Project Gunrunner."
At a June 29 press conference, President Obama told reporters, "As you know, my attorney general has made clear he certainly would not have ordered gun-running to pass through into Mexico."
Yet a video shows former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden telling reporters at a Department of Justice briefing of steps to expand Gunrunner "as part of the administration's comprehensive plan" and as the "president has directed us."
ATF agents have testified that they were ordered not to interdict guns before they passed into Mexico under this operation and evidence has surfaced that the FBI averted its eyes when an instant background check should have alerted them to two convicted felons transferring more than 300 guns.
The "stench of cover-up" grows stronger even as the mainstream media put a clothespin on their collective nostrils.