For the first time, documents appear to show Attorney General Eric Holder was made aware of the Operation Fast and Furious earlier than he claimed -- up to nine months earlier.
The documents seem to contradict what Holder told a House Judiciary Committee on May 3, when he said he could not recall the exact date, but he'd "probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."
However, in a July 2010 memo, Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, told Holder straw buyers in the Operation Fast and Furious case "are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels."
Also, on Oct.18, 2010, one of Holder's chief deputies, Lanny Breuer, chief of the department's Criminal Division, told Holder in a memo that prosecutors were ready to issue indictments in Operation Fast and Furious.
Documents also show, contrary to earlier reports, the Justice Department was aware that ATF agents under the department's direction were involved in the controversial practice known as "gun walking" -- allowing illicit gun sales to proceed to track the traffickers to higher-ups. The department has said it did not allow guns to "walk."
When agents "let guns walk," they stop surveillance and allow criminals to transfer weapons to others. In this case, that meant allowing the guns to cross the border into Mexico. It is a highly controversial practice agents typically are taught not to do.
However, in an Oct. 17, 2010 memo, Deputy Attorney General Jason Weinstein asks another attorney in the Criminal Division if Breuer should do a press conference when Fast and Furious is announced, but says, "It's a tricky case, given the number of guns that have walked."
His associate, James Trusty writes back, "It's not going to be any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in MX (Mexico), so I’m not sure how much grief we'll get for 'gun walking.'"
Until now, there's been an attempt to portray Operation Fast and Furious as a rogue operation by ATF agents in Phoenix and the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office. But insiders claim these documents show the Department of Justice in Washington was intimately aware of the case almost from the beginning.
In response to the documents released Monday, the Justice Department said Holder's response referred to when he first learned of the "troubling tactics" of the program, not the name of it. A department spokesman also says that the "gun walking" referred to in the October 2010 email exchange is about another case initiated before Operation Fast and Furious.