While I was waiting for my flight out of Chicago, LA Times DC reporter Richard Serrano called me. We talked about many things but we agreed that the conversation was off the record. It will remain so, as far as I'm concerned.
However, I will say I was surprised when this story crossed my email last night.
Emails to White House didn't mention gun sting
An ATF supervisor who was asked to provide information on efforts to stop weapons trafficking to Mexico did not mention Fast and Furious, a botched operation that let guns reach drug cartels.
By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
July 28, 2011, 5:37 p.m.
Reporting from Washington— The ATF's field supervisor on the Southwest border sent a series of emails last year to a top White House national security official detailing the agency's ambitious efforts to stop weapons trafficking into Mexico, but did not mention that a botched sting operation had allowed hundreds of guns to flow to drug cartels.
Over three days in September 2010, William D. Newell, a 20-year veteran who at the time was the special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' field operations in Arizona and New Mexico, briefed Kevin M. O'Reilly, director of North American affairs for the White House national security staff. Newell sent the emails in advance of a meeting between Mexican officials and John Brennan, President Obama's deputy national security advisor.
A White House official confirmed Thursday that Newell had said nothing about the specific tactics used to fight weapons traffickers, which included allowing "straw" purchasers to buy guns without immediately arresting them, in hopes the small-time traffickers would lead authorities to the cartels and reveal smuggling routes into Mexico. The so-called Fast and Furious operation was run out of the ATF's Phoenix field office.
Serrano even kindly gives us copies of said "exculpatory-to-the-White-House" emails.
The series of emails obtained by The Times are the first indication that the White House was not immediately told of the failures of Fast and Furious, which ultimately lost track of about 1,700 guns.
A White House official said Thursday that Newell's emails were "not in relation to Fast and Furious" but rather to brief the White House about other trafficking cases to prep Brennan. The official asked not to be identified because Congress and the inspector general's office of the Justice Department have ongoing investigations.
"There was no mention of investigative tactics like letting the guns walk or the details of how this was all going down," the official said.
"The attorney general has made clear he takes the allegations about Fast and Furious very seriously, and that's why he asked for the inspector general to investigate the matter," the official said. "And it's also why you see the Justice Department cooperating with the House oversight committee."
Asked whether Newell meant to keep the White House in the dark about Fast and Furious, the official replied, "That's a great question for Newell."
"The series of emails obtained by The Times are the first indication that the White House was not immediately told of the failures of Fast and Furious, which ultimately lost track of about 1,700 guns."
Inferring rather more from the available evidence than is supported by it, aren't we Richard? "Not immediately told"? Well, that's a bit of a leap, because I have been told by my sources that there are in fact dozens of emails between the two, as well as phone and personal conversations, all covering the years 2009 to 2011.
I have not been shy about sharing those allegations with other reporters and investigators.
In addition, Serrano assumes, apparently, that Newell is the only direct or back-channel line of communication to and from the White House in the Gunwalker Plot. My first reaction to Serrano's story was to send an email to Serrano, copied to the House and Senate investigators.
Sent: Thu, Jul 28, 2011 11:42 pm
Subject: You write as if those were the only emails and the only contacts between O'Reilly & Newell.
You don't recall the phrase "modified limited hangout"?
BTW, they weren't.
You did give the White House what they were looking for, though. If that was your intention.
I have as yet not received a reply.