Republicans are demanding more documents in the botched Operation Fast and Furious, saying they "have an obligation to get to the truth" and "a constitutional responsibility to determine what happened."
But what have lawmakers learned so far from the documents already turned over to congressional investigators? In particular, what do they know about what happened before Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010, with two weapons tied to Fast and Furious found at the scene?
For a fuller picture, Fox News has pored over hundreds of pages of documents and condensed them into about eight pages, laying out all relevant portions in an extensive timeline. Some of the documents, as Republicans have complained, are heavily redacted, and only a fraction of the more than 7,600 documents turned over to the House Oversight and Government Committee have been obtained by Fox News or otherwise made public.
Since so much about Fast and Furious and controversial "gunwalking" tactics is in dispute, this review encompasses only emails and other materials -- no statements from government officials or lawmakers after Fast and Furious became a public and political controversy.
Documents speak for themselves. Among other things about Fast and Furious, they say:
-- Officials with Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona embraced a strategy to work with gun dealers and "allow the transfer of firearms to ... take place in order to" go after bigwig weapons-smugglers. Gun dealers and even some officials within ATF expressed concerns, with one gun dealer saying an ATF request to order more weapons for a suspected gun smuggler was "outside of the standard way" he did business. But officials in Phoenix leading the operation tried to allay such concerns by insisting ATF was "continually monitoring" suspects, and telling one gun dealer his "continued cooperation with our office has greatly aided the investigation thus far."
-- ATF officials in Phoenix did not necessarily intend to let weapons cross into Mexico, with the operation's group supervisor saying, "We cannot chance these things crossing the border." However, early on in the investigation, ATF officials knew that large numbers of "suspect" weapons were already making their way to Mexico.
-- While Fast and Furious and other ATF investigations were progressing, the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division in Washington agreed to have one of his attorneys help ATF "coordinate" its efforts to develop and prosecute unspecified cases related to gun-trafficking. Attorneys in Washington were ultimately assigned to help prosecute Fast and Furious, but they obtained only "general knowledge of the investigation" because the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix ended up "handling" the case and did "not do a good job of keeping (others) in the loop."
-- At one point, a top federal prosecutor in Phoenix told U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke that ATF agents "have pursued interdiction of the firearms transferred to the conspirators where possible," and that agents "have not purposely let guns 'walk.'" The federal prosecutor repeated those assertions -- verbatim -- two months later. (Three months after that, Burke then told Justice Department officials in Washington that whistleblower allegations of "gunwalking" were "categorically false." The Justice Department ended up denying the allegations to Congress in letter on Feb. 4, 201, but had to retract that denial months later.)
BEFORE FAST AND FURIOUS
2006-2007: Led by ATF, law enforcement agencies across the country undertook a "new" national program called "Gunrunner," a "border interdiction initiative aimed at halting firearms trafficking between the United States and Mexico," according to ATF and Justice Department press releases at the time.
March 2006: ATF agents in Arizona launched "Operation Wide Receiver," targeting a gun-smuggling conspiracy based in Tucson. In June, an ATF official suggested using an undercover agent "to make personal delivery" and arrest a suspect "at a later date," saying in an email, "We believe at this point there is more value in the surveillance, identification of locations, persons, vehicles and asset rather than making sight arrests."
July 13, 2006: According to a memo, ATF agents -- looking to further their investigation -- wanted to know if the U.S. attorney's office would allow "an indeterminate number of illegal weapons ... to be released into the community, and possibly into Mexico, without any further ability by the U.S. Government to control their movement or future use." ATF's legal counsel was "opposed" to the idea, "citing moral objections," according to the memo. It's unclear how the U.S. attorney responded.
June 2007: An ATF official said in an email he is "no longer comfortable allowing additional firearms to 'walk,' without a more defined purpose." (In a December 2008 email, a federal prosecutor in Arizona said the U.S. government "allow[ed] 100s of guns to go into Mexico to drug people knowing that is where they are going.")
July 2007: ATF initiated an investigation into a suspected gun smuggler named Fidel Hernandez. The ATF case agent was named Hope MacAllister (the same case agent assigned more than two years later to Fast and Furious).
October 2, 2007: Days earlier ATF agents watched as Hernandez bought weapons from a Phoenix-area gun dealer and contacted Mexican authorities as he drove them toward Mexico, but Mexican law enforcement was too slow to stop him. Still, the Special Agent in Charge of ATF's Phoenix office, Bill Newell, said he supported "doing this again 100% and so do the agents." "(If) this goes we'll be able to cement our role as the lead firearms trafficking agency on this side of the border and score some major points with the Mexicans," Newell wrote in an email. But, he said, "We need to ensure we've got this deal covered."
Oct. 4, 2007: Newell told a colleague at ATF headquarters in Washington, Field Operations Assistant Director Billy Hoover, that, "I know you have reservations but please rest assured that this will go down as planned." The next day, an ATF lawyer said all of them could discuss if "this investigation is operating within the law and (Justice Department) guidelines."
Oct. 5, 2007: Hoover, concerned the U.S. attorney's office may not have "full and complete buy in," wrote an email to ATF officials in Phoenix saying, "I do not want any firearms to go South until further notice."
Oct. 6, 2007: Newell wrote in an email, "I'm so frustrated with this whole mess I'm shutting the case down and any further attempts to do something similar. We're done trying to pursue new and innovative initiatives -- it's not worth the hassle." Nevertheless, three weeks later, an ATF official in Phoenix distributed a surveillance plan, saying in an email, "Keep your fingers crossed maybe we'll be successful this time."
Nov. 15, 2007: While working to draft a memo for Attorney General Michael Mukasey's upcoming meeting with his Mexican counterpart, an ATF official noted there "have (been) cases in the past where we have walked guns."
FAST AND FURIOUS
September 2009: ATF's Phoenix office launched Operation Fast and Furious to investigate Manuel Celis-Acosta, alleged to have been leading a firearms-trafficking ring based in Arizona.
October 2009: A "weekly report" from the office of ATF Acting Director Ken Melson to Attorney General Eric Holder's offices in the Justice Department said "several potential traffickers or suspicious purchasers" had been identified through "firearms compliance investigations" at two unspecified gun dealers. The dealers sold about 5,000 firearms each year and "rank among the top 100 dealers as sources of firearms traced," the memo said. The suspects "had purchased numerous firearms (approximately 140 total) at both licensees within the last 12 months," and some of those firearms had already been recovered in Mexico, Guatemala and Arizona. There was no mention of Fast and Furious or ATF's Phoenix office.
Nov. 24, 2009: ATF agents observed Jaime Avila Jr. and Uriel Patino buy 10 guns in total, and the next day Avila was entered into ATF's internal database "as a suspect in the investigation," according to later Justice Department documents.
Dec. 3, 2009: Melson (ATF director) emailed the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, about taking "a little different approach" by treating trace data from large weapons seizures in Mexico as one big case, rather than looking at each gun as a different case. "I would like to see if you have any interest in assigning a criminal division attorney to work with (ATF) to develop multi-division/district cases and perhaps go to the district with the best venue to indict the case," Melson wrote Breuer. In response the next day, Breuer called it a "terrific idea" and said the Justice Department's "Gang Unit will be assigning an attorney to help you coordinate this effort." (Trial attorney Joe Cooley was assigned.)
Dec. 8, 2009: An ATF official in Tucson, Sigberto Celaya, wrote to Phoenix's Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillett about the investigation, "I support their effort. I would only recommend that some action is taken in attempts to slow down the purchasing and exportation of the firearms and ammunition. ... We are being told that (agents) have documented over 300 firearms being purchased by this group."
Dec. 12, 2009: Avila (suspect) bought five AK-47-type rifles in Phoenix, and ATF was notified that day. The guns were not recovered, according to a memo written more than a year later.
Dec. 14, 2009: The chief of ATF's criminal intelligence division in Washington, Kevin O'Keefe, emailed Gillett (ATF Phoenix's #2) asking for more information on the investigation so that ATF's Assistant Director for Field Operations, Mark Chait, could "brief a DOJ attorney on new (Southwest Border) operational plans and use this case as an example."
Dec. 14, 2009: Case agent Hope MacAllister (same one assigned to Hernandez case in 2007) and ATF Group Supervisor David Voth noted in emails that at least 13 "suspect" guns sold in Arizona were recovered in Mexico.
Dec 17, 2009: Gillett (ATF Phoenix's #2) emailed Newell (head of ATF Phoenix) noting that ATF investigator Ray Rowley "received a briefing on the investigation this week and mentioned the possibility of needing to shut the investigation down due to the large number of guns that have already been trafficked." Gillett said he then spoke to Rowley and explained that "we have slowed down the (gun dealer) on future purchases and are obtaining intelligence directly related to this investigation." Gillett also told Rowley "we will slow the purchasers down as much as possible, but we have not identified the network yet," according to his email. Gillett said he asked Voth (group supervisor) "to begin preparing a white paper that outlines progress to date as well as ... plans for proceeding with the investigation."
Dec. 17, 2009. Gillett sent Voth excerpts of an ATF order, which outlines "considerations" when witnessing a firearms transfer. In some cases, the order said, "immediate intervention may not be needed or desirable, and the special agent may choose to allow the transfer of firearms to take place in order to further an investigation and allow for the identification of additional coconspirators who would have continued to operate and illegally traffic firearms in the future."
Dec. 17, 2009: Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, Voth (group supervisor) and MacAllister (case agent) met with the owner of the Lone Wolf gun store in Phoenix, Andre Howard. "Mr. Howard had expressed concerns about the cooperation he was providing and whether he was endangering himself or implicating himself in a criminal investigation," according to a memo written more than a year later. The group told Howard "they could not instruct him to make a sale," but as "long as the required forms were properly filled out and the FFL did not know or have a reason to know that the firearms were part of a straw purchase or intended to be used in a crime, that he could complete the transfer."
Dec. 30, 2009: Voth (group supervisor) told an official with ATF's El Paso Intelligence Center that "our friendly (gun dealer) is on board for the sale" of weapons with GPS tracking devices in them. "We should experience no obstacles with getting into the bad guy's hands," Voth said in an email. But, he said, "We cannot chance these things crossing the border and would very much like (need) to timely get a GPS tracker into them." Voth said the gun-dealer would delay the sale until ATF could equip the weapons with GPS devices, "but if (ATF) delays too long they may go elsewhere where we don't have the advantage of advance warning." (It's unclear what happened with the case.)
Jan 5, 2010: Hurley (federal prosecutor in Arizona) sent a memo to Mike Morrissey, also from the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix, about a meeting with ATF officials that day. So far, Hurley said, the case involved more than 600 guns, and about 100 of those weapons had been recovered in the United States and Mexico. Nevertheless, "We have reviewed the available evidence thus far and agree that we do not have any chargeable offenses against any of the players." While ATF headquarters in Washington may want "to immediately contact identifiable straw purchasers" at least in part "to stem the flow of guns," "Local ATF favors pursuing a wire and surveillance to build a case against the leader of the organization," Hurley said, adding that, "I concur" with local ATF's preference.
Jan 5, 2010: Morrissey (federal prosecutor in Arizona) wrote an email to U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke telling him that, "We have a promising guns to Mexico case (some weapons already seized and accounted for), local ATF is on board with our strategy but ATF headquarters may want to do a smaller straw purchaser case. We should hold out for the bigger case, try to get a wire, and if (it) fails, we can always do the straw buyers." Two days later, Burke wrote back, "Hold out for bigger."
Jan. 8, 2010: An ATF Phoenix "briefing paper" said the investigation had already identified "more than 20 individual connected straw purchasers," and more suspects "are being identified as the scope of the investigation expands." "(A) determination was made that there was minimal evidence at this time to support any type of prosecution ... Currently our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to continue to take place, albeit at a much slower pace, in order to further the investigation and allow for the identification of additional coconspirators who would continue to operate and illegally traffic firearms to Mexican (cartels) which are perpetrating armed violence along the Southwest border." The briefing paper said Newell (head of ATF in Phoenix) "has repeatedly met with (U.S. Attorney) Burke regarding the on-going status of this investigation and both are in full agreement with the current investigative strategy." (The briefing paper also said it was "all in compliance" with the ATF order mentioned above.)
Jan. 16, 2010: Avila (suspect) bought three rifles at a gun-dealer in Phoenix. (ATF was not notified of this purchase until three days later. Eleven months later, two of those weapons would be found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's murder.)
Jan 18, 2010: A memo sent to the office of Lanny Breuer (head of Justice Department's Criminal Division) said in total, "Gang Unit attorneys met with ATF to discuss the Southwest Border gun initiative. The attorneys reviewed information regarding major gun seizures in Mexico that are connected to 'straw purchases' made in Texas and Arizona. The Gang Unit will review the ATF cases and develop a strategy to prosecute the organizations responsible for these firearms trafficking activities."
March 1, 2010: Cooley (trial attorney in Washington) wrote to Gillett (ATF Phoenix's #2), "At the request of ATF Headquarters, Gang Unit has agreed to assist in the firearms trafficking into Mexico investigations. Earlier this year, I was assigned to this task. I just finished up a trial last week and I am now available to provide any assistance needed. I understand that the case agent working out the Phoenix Office is Hope MacAllister. I could not find her in the email directory. Please have her contact me at her earliest convenience." Gillett responded, "The investigation you are referring to has been dubbed, 'The Fast and Furious.'"
March 1, 2010: A memo from Melson (ATF Director) to Holder's offices at the Justice Department said, "ATF agents obtained a court order authorizing the installation of a GPS tracking device inside the polymer stock of an AK-47 type firearm. The firearm was provided by ATF agents to a cooperating Federal firearms licensee (FFL), who sold it to a target of this investigation. ATF agents tracked the firearm from Phoenix to a location in Tucson and then south across the Tohono O'odham Reservation. Agents contacted the U.S. Border Patrol ... Border Patrol agents made a vehicle stop and recovered 41 firearms. Both women in the vehicle stated they intended to take the firearms into Mexico." (Days later, the same information -- verbatim -- was sent from the head of the Justice Department's Gang Unit in Washington, Kevin Carwile, to Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and others.)
March 1, 2010: Gang Unit attorneys "met with ATF (headquarters) to be briefed on developments in Operation Fast and Furious and various firearms trafficking investigations based in Phoenix, AZ," according to a memo from Carwile (Gang Unit chief in Washington to Weinstein (top Criminal Division official) and others. (The rest of that paragraph is redacted.)
March 4, 2010: O'Keefe (head of ATF criminal intelligence in Washington) sent an email to Cooley (trial attorney in Washington) saying a briefing the next day would "be much more detailed" than the briefing three days earlier. (It's unclear exactly what was shared in that briefing.)
March 10, 2010: Gillett (ATF Phoenix's #2) wrote to Voth and others, "Not sure if you know, but (ATF Director) Mr. Melson and (ATF Deputy Director) Mr. Hoover are being briefed weekly on this investigation and the recent success." (Melson has since testified he did not know the troubling details of Fast and Furious at the time.)
March 12, 2010: Voth (group supervisor) sent an email to his ATF agents in Phoenix, saying, "It has been brought to my attention that there may be a schism developing amongst the group." Voth said he didn't "know what all the issues are" but cited "petty arguing, rumors and other adolescent behavior." (ATF whistleblowers and Republicans have said this email shows ATF agents raised concerns about the tactics of Fast and Furious; lawyers for Voth and Newell have said the "schism" was about staffing and who should have to help listen to wiretaps, not the tactics involved.)
March 12, 2010: Gary Grindler, then the acting Deputy Attorney General, received a briefing from Melson (ATF Director) and Hoover (now ATF's Deputy Director). In notes from the briefing, Grindler wrote such phrases as "Operation The Fast and Furious," "long rifles, multiple sales," "seizures in Mexico," and "Primarily Phoenix (U.S. Attorney's Office)." In addition, Grindler was shown a map indicating that weapons sold in the United States were being found in Mexico. (The notes are heavily redacted. Grindler has testified he is "extraordinarily confident" he was never told ATF was deliberately allowing firearms to be transferred to Mexico. And both Melson and Hoover have testified they didn't know about the controversial tactics at the time they briefed Grindler.)
March 15, 2010: A wiretap application was submitted to federal court, seeking approval to eavesdrop on suspects. (Before being submitted, the application had to be signed by either Justice Department official Weinstein or two others. Republicans say the applications contained pertinent details and show officials in Washington were aware of controversial tactics. Democrats say the wiretap applications do not contain details about tactics used, and Weinstein has testified he usually only read the cover sheets of applications before approving them, and he did not see anything during Fast and Furious that raised concerns.)
March 15, 2010: At 9:59 p.m, Weinstein sent an email to Carwile (head of Justice Department's Gang Unit in Washington) asking him "to send me the names of the cases ATF (headquarters) asked us to get involved in but which had in fact been shopped to the field." Then next day, Carwile sent an email to Cooley (trial attorney) asking, "What is the name of the Arizona case/investigation which we thought you could join but the USAO is now handling?" Cooley responded, "Op Fast and Furious (many of the straw purchasers are members of a car club)." Carwile then sent a page of "talking points" to Weinstein, saying an example of "collaboration" between ATF and the Gang Unit is "Operation Fast and Furious." The "talking points" said one case in Texas "derived from this investigation" involves "the recovery of approximately 550 weapons during two seizures in 2008 in Mexican border towns." "Both caches of weapons are believed to be affiliated with the Gulf Coast Cartel DTO." (Fast and Furious didn't start until 2009 -- it was based in Arizona, and it focused on ties to the Sinaloa cartel.) Subsequently, Carwile repeated to Weinstein what he was told earlier by Cooley, that in "Operation Fast and Furious" a "number of the straw purchasers are in a car club." Carwile told Weinstein, "It is being worked out of the (U.S. Attorney's Office) in Phoenix, AZ. This was one of the two cases we were briefed on at the end of December immediately after the meetings with (ATF Director) Ken Melson. I assigned Joe Cooley to the investigation, he got briefed and then started his Latin Kings trial." Carwile said Cooley "just turned his attention back to the case" but "he learned the (U.S. attorney's office) now had the case." "We offered to help but they said they had it under control," Carwile said.
March 23, 2010: Hurley (federal prosecutor in Arizona) sent a memo to Burke (U.S. attorney) saying, "Along with the wire, agents are using some innovative strategies to conduct this investigation, including the use of GPS trackers inserted into some firearms that are in the inventory of a Federal Firearms Licensee cooperative with the ATF. The objective of the wire is to identify all of the major players in the conspiracy and discover the methods and means used to cross guns into Mexico." The memo said suspects have purchased more than $500,000 worth of firearms.
April 13, 2010: A firearms dealer wrote to Voth (group supervisor) expressing concerns, saying, "We just want to make sure we are cooperating with ATF and that we are not viewed as selling to bad guys." In response, Voth wrote, "I understand that the frequency with which some individuals under investigation by our office have been purchasing firearms from your business has caused concerns for you. I totally understand and am not in a position to tell you how to run your business. However, if it helps put you at ease we (ATF) are continually monitoring these suspects using a variety of investigative techniques which I cannot go into detail. We are working in conjunction with the United States Attorney's Office (Federal Prosecutors) to secure the most comprehensive case involving the different facets of this organization. Just know that we cannot instruct you on how to run your business but your continued cooperation with our office has greatly aided the investigation thus far." (The dealer agrees to at least temporarily "continue handling the transactions as we have in the past.")
April 19, 2010: Another wiretap application was submitted to federal court, seeking approval to eavesdrop on suspects. (See March 12, 2010, entry for more information.)
April 23, 2010: An ATF colleague warned Voth (group supervisor) that GPS trackers may not work once they cross into Mexico because the coverage there is limited. Voth responded, "If everything works and goes according to plan we will intercept the firearms at or near the border. We have no plans on letting any firearms (with or without a tracker) cross from the U.S. into Mexico."
April 27, 2010: David Booth from ATF's International Affairs Office sent an email to Gillett (ATF Phoenix's #2), saying, "On Thursday morning the director is going to speak before the committee on oversight here in DC. One of the cases he will be talking about will be Fast and Furious. Do you have a (half)-page synopsis on it that would give someone an idea about the case? The briefing is classified for whatever that means." (Holder has since said Melson gave the subsequent briefing, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was present. Melson, though, has testified he didn't know about controversial tactics at the time.)
May 13, 2010: In a meeting between Voth (group supervisor), Hurley (federal prosecutor in Arizona) and a Phoenix-area gun dealer, the dealer "shared my concerns with you guys that I wanted to make sure that none of the firearms that were sold per our conversation with you and various ATF agents could or would end up south of the border or in the hands of the bad guys," according to an email the gun dealer sent Voth the following month.
May 7, 2010: Another wiretap application was submitted to federal court, seeking approval to eavesdrop on suspects. (See March 12, 2010, entry for more information.)
May 17, 2010: Another wiretap application was submitted to federal court, seeking approval to eavesdrop on suspects. (See March 12, 2010, entry for more information.)
June 2, 2010: Another wiretap application was submitted to federal court, seeking approval to eavesdrop on suspects. (See March 12, 2010, entry for more information.)
June 17, 2010: After a Fox News report two days earlier, a gun dealer wrote ATF group supervisor Voth, "I guess I am looking for a bit of reassurance that the guns are not getting south or in the wrong hands. ... I want to help ATF with its investigation but not at the risk of agents safety because I have some very close friends that are US Border Patrol agents in southern AZ as well as my concern for all the agents safety that protect our country." In a response, Voth thanked the gun-dealer "for reaching out to me with your concerns," and suggested discussing the matter further. (It's unclear what happened afterward.)
June 28, 2010: A "weekly report" was sent from the National Drug Intelligence Center to the offices of the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General Eric Holder. The report cited Operation Fast and Furious as an investigation into suspect Manuel Celis-Acosta, saying in total about it, "This investigation, initiated in September 2009 in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Phoenix Police Department, involves a Phoenix-based firearms trafficking ring headed by Manuel Celis-Acosta. Celis-Acosta and (redacted) straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug trafficking cartels. They also have direct ties to the Sinaloa Cartel which is suspected of providing $1 million for the purchase of firearms in the greater Phoenix area." (Memos with the same language were sent throughout 2010. Justice officials have said they receive hundreds of such memos each week, and they do not go directly to the addressee.)
July 2, 2010. Another wiretap application was submitted to federal court, seeking approval to eavesdrop on suspects. (See March 12, 2010, entry for more information.)
July 12, 2010: ATF informed police in Peoria, Ariz., that a Fast and Furious suspect "was in possession of firearms" linked to the operation. When police tried to catch up with him, he unsuccessfully tried to outrun them. Police ultimately found 20 weapons in his truck. "The firearms had been purchased earlier that day by a subject identified as a straw purchaser" in "Fast and Furious," and another 96 firearms had been recovered in the previous 24 days, according to a July 13, 2010, email from Voth (group supervisor) to ATF colleagues.
July 28, 2010: A member of the White House's national security staff, Kevin O'Reilly, sent an email to Newell (head of ATF Phoenix) asking for a "readout" on how ATF's surge of resources to target gun-smuggling in Arizona has been going. In response, Newell said it is "going very well actually" and mentioned a "large" case. Newell noted that one agent sent to help in Arizona said he had "never seen this level of illegal firearms trafficking activity before." In a later email, Newell said, "When a 22 year old kid on State financial assistance walks into a gun store and plops down $12,000 in cash to buy a tripod mounted .50 caliber rifle that's a clue (even for us) that he's involved in trafficking firearms for a Mexican [cartel]."
July 29, 2010: A Justice Department Gang Unit official sent an email to Carwile (head of Gang Unit) noting that attorney Laura Gwinn was "still trying to 'learn' the case through review of (redacted), a running log of overt acts and discussions with the lead attorney." (Gwinn apparently took over efforts to help prosecute Fast and Furious from trial attorney Cooley.)
August 9-13, 2010: Newell (head of ATF Phoenix) sent two emails to O'Reilly (White House official). The first noted the recovery of one firearm related to the "large" case "I mentioned previously." The second was a list of guns "straw purchased here in Phoenix" but recovered in Mexico. (None of the firearms listed was part of Fast and Furious.)
August 16, 2010: Hurley (federal prosecutor in Arizona) sent a "Fast and Furious Overview" to Burke (U.S. attorney). The memo said investigators planned to shut the operation down in October, and they had already interdicted 200 weapons. "Investigating agents have pursued interdiction of the firearms transferred to the conspirators where possible," the memo said. "Agents have not purposely let guns 'walk.' Interdiction in some cases has been hampered by counter-surveillance used by the targets."
August 18, 2010: Newell (head of ATF Phoenix) sent an email to O'Reilly (White House official) citing "frustration" with Mexican authorities and a high legal bar set by the U.S. attorney's office to bring charges over guns trafficked to Mexico. When a "straw buyer" has confessed and lied on purchase forms in Arizona, the U.S. attorney's office there still "requests" that a U.S. agent physically inspect the weapons in Mexico "in order to show the jury that the 'straw' buyer was in fact part of a trafficking scheme." "Other districts don't require this but hey it's Arizona, I appreciate and respect the struggles the [U.S. attorney's office] has to go through with juries in this State to convince them of the illegality of this."
Aug 18, 2010: ATF agent Larry Alt wrote an email to Voth (group supervisor), saying he was sending "a new surveillance op-plan for approval." "[T]he surveillance team will attempt to identify and observe the sale/disposition of (7) Century int. Arms (AK-47) 7/62 rifles to [a suspect]. … I did not submit another op-plan for this surveillance - I do not anticipate enforcement action, just surveillance. Please advise regarding approval," Alt wrote. (This email apparently did not relate to Fast and Furious, but a separate investigation by ATF Phoenix.)
Aug 25, 2010: A gun dealer wrote to Voth, saying suspect Uriel Patino called looking to buy 20 firearms. The story only had four of the weapons requested, so the gun dealer wanted to know if he should order the other 16 weapons for Patino "as it is outside of the standard way we have been dealing with him." Voth responded, "We (ATF) are very much interested in this transaction and would like to coordinate (with your cooperation) the delivery of these firearms to Mr. Patino under our direction; i.e. date, time, etc. Be assured no enforcement action will take place on or near the ... property." Voth suggested the transaction take place the following week, adding, "Another technique to allow for greater control would be if you are willing to request a partial down payment from Mr. Patino for a 'special order.' This tends to increase the individual's future compliance when they are already financially invested in the situation. In summary our guidance is that we would like you to go through with Mr. Patino's request." In an email the next day, the gun dealer agreed.
Sept. 3, 2010: In an email to O'Reilly (White House official), Newell (head of ATF Phoenix) noted that his office looks "at 'straw' purchases as the lowest ring on the firearms trafficking ladder but in many investigation we need their cooperation in order to identify the real traffickers and middlemen." Newell said the U.S. attorney's office backed his "play" when agents first interact with 'straw' purchasers, and that "adds tremendous leverage to our efforts to get the truth from them so we can work our way up the ladder." Newell also sent O'Reilly an "arrow chart" showing where guns from Arizona had been found in Mexico. O'Reilly called the chart "really interesting."
Sept. 13, 2010: In an email from Gwinn (trial attorney in Washington) to Justice Department colleagues, Gwinn said, "The (attorney) who is handling the case does not do a good job of keeping me in the loop. I have general knowledge of the investigation, and am sometimes included in meeting(s) that occur when I am in (Phoenix)."
Sept. 22, 2010: In an email from Gwinn (trial attorney in Washington) to others in the Justice Department's Gang Unit, Gwinn said: "It is becoming increasingly frustrating trying to be involved in the gun-trafficking cases in (Phoenix). No information has been provided in a while on Celis-Acosta, other than they anticipate trying to indict late Oct-early November. I continue to advise the lead attorney that I am available for any assistance I can provide."
Oct. 14, 2010: Thomas Ott, an official with the Justice Department's Criminal Division in Washington, sent a "weekly report" to others within the Justice Department, including Weinstein (top Criminal Division official). The report mentioned "Fast and Furious," saying only that a case in Tucson would likely stay sealed "until such time as the Phoenix-based 'Operation Fast and Furious' is ready for takedown. That investigation has spanned (redacted) and likely involved hundreds, if not thousands, of firearms."
October 2010: The office of Lanny Breuer (head of Criminal Division in Washington) sent a memo to Attorney General Eric Holder's office about "significant upcoming events," saying that a case in Tucson would likely stay sealed "until another investigation, Phoenix-based 'Operation Fast and Furious,' is ready for takedown."
Oct. 17, 2010: Weinstein (Criminal Division official) sent an email to another Justice Department official, asking, "Do you think we should try to have Lanny (Breuer) participate in press when Fast and Furious and Laura's Tucson case (Wide Receiver) are unsealed? It's a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked, but it is a significant set of prosecutions." ("Wide Receiver" had lay dormant for years. Laura Gwinn was looking to bring charges against the suspects.) In response to Weinstein the next day, the Justice Department official said, "It's not clear how much we're involved in the main (Fast and Furious) case, but we have (Wide Receiver) ... It's not going to be any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in (Mexico), so I'm not sure how much grief we get for 'guns walking.' It may be more like, 'Finally they're going after people who sent guns down there...'" (Justice Department officials say the acknowledgement of "guns walking" is in regards to "Wide Receiver," not "Fast and Furious." Others read it differently.)
Oct. 21, 2010: In a memo about "Fast and Furious" to an unidentified official, Hurley (federal prosecutor in Arizona) repeated what she said months earlier to U.S. Attorney Burke. "Investigating agents have pursued interdiction of the firearms transferred to the conspirators where possible. Agents have not purposely let guns 'walk.' Interdiction in some cases has been hampered by counter-surveillance used by the targets," Hurley's memo said, adding that suspects were now believed to have bought 1,800 weapons. "ATF has undertaken a very aggressive approach to seizing firearms tied to this conspiracy whenever a legal theory allowing for seizure can be developed," the memo said.
Nov. 8, 2010: In a memo to other Justice Department officials in Washington, Weinstein (Criminal Division official) said ATF Director "Ken (Melson) is also frustrated by the pace of the [U.S. attorney's office] in AZ in bringing charges in the 'Fast and Furious' gun-trafficking case (multiple wires, huge # of guns) -- (Assistant U.S. Attorney Hurley) has apparently told the agents that it will take a couple of months to draft the indictment."
Dec. 15, 2010: U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry is killed along the southwest border. Two weapons sold to suspect Jaime Avila Jr. in January 2010 are found at the scene.