Fast And Fallacious: Pavlich's Book On ATF Operation Filled With Falsehoods
Research ››› ››› MATT GERTZ
In her new book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up, Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich offers up a number of false and misleading claims about the ATF's fatally flawed Operation Fast and Furious. In doing so Pavlich baselessly suggests that high-ranking Justice Department officials were aware of that operation's use of the tactic of gunwalking, in which agents knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico in order to identify other members of a trafficking network.
CLAIM: Attorney General Eric Holder "Was Briefed At Least Five Times On" Fast And Furious. From the book:
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder, their ultimate boss, was finding that his testimony denying any knowledge of Fast and Furious before it was reported in the newspapers was fast unraveling.
On October 3, 2011, the Justice Department finally released a tranche of long-sought documents. Among them were memos demonstrating that Attorney General Holder was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious on a regular basis starting as early as July 5, 2010. According to the documents, Holder was briefed at least five times on the program
Holder responded by saying he never read the memos and blamed his staff for failing to inform him about Fast and Furious. To "clarify" his earlier testimony, Holder sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee:
Much has been made in the past few days about my congressional testimony earlier this year regarding Fast and Furious. My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout. I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation and it is my understanding that the former United States Attorney for the District of Arizona and the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of ATF have told Congress that they, themselves, were unaware of the tactics employed.
Chairman Issa, among many other members of Congress, found the claims unpersuasive. "It appears your latest defense has reached a new low," Issa told Holder. "You now claim that you were unaware of Fast and Furious because your staff failed to inform you of information contained in memos that were specifically addressed to you. At best, this indicates negligence and incompetence in your duties as Attorney General. At worst, it places your credibility in serious doubt." [Fast and Furious, p. 127, 129-130]
REALITY: As Holder Noted, "None Of These [Memos] Say Anything About The Unacceptable Tactics Employed By ATF." In the letter to the House Oversight Committee quoted by Pavlich, Holder makes clear that the documents in question are "weekly reports [that] contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week," that "over a hundred pages" of such documents arrive each week addressed to him and are reviewed by his staff, and that "none of these summaries say anything about the unacceptable tactics employed by ATF":
In the past few days, some have pointed to documents that we provided to Congress as evidence that I was familiar with Fast and Furious earlier than I have testified. That simply is not the case and those suggestions mischaracterize the process by which I receive information concerning the activities of the Department's many components. On a weekly basis, my office typically receives over a hundred pages of so-called "weekly reports" that, while addressed to me, actually are provided to and reviewed by members of my staff and the staff of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. The weekly reports contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week. Sometimes, the summaries are simply a sentence-long and other times they consist of a paragraph. In some cases, the summaries are of policy-related issues or upcoming events. In other cases, the summaries are brief, high-level reviews of pending matters or investigations. It is important to look at the documents supposedly at issue here and, for that reason, I have attached them to this letter and am making them public in the form they previously were provided by us to Congress. Please not that none of these summaries say anything about the unacceptable tactics employed by ATF. [Holder letter, 10/7/11]
Pavlich Falsely Claimed AAG Breuer Admitted Knowing Gunwalking Tactics Were Used In Fast And Furious
CLAIM: Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer "Admitted... He Knew Gunwalking Tactics Were Being Used During Fast And Furious As Early As April 2010." From the book:
Shortly after the subpoenas were issued, Deputy [sic, Assistant] Attorney General of the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer, the man responsible for approving wiretap applications, including those in Fast and Furious, admitted during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he in fact knew that gunwalking tactics were being used during Fast and Furious as early as April 2010, but that he failed to inform his boss, Holder, about the details. Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich tried to pin gunwalking tactics on a Bush administration program known as Wide Receiver, which was stopped immediately when guns were lost. Breuer misleadingly labeled Fast and Furious by its Bush-era predecessor.
"Knowing what I now know was a pattern of unacceptable and misguided tactics used by the ATF, I regret that I did not alert others within the leadership of the Department of Justice to the tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver when they first came to my attention," Breuer said in a statement. [Fast and Furious, p. 131-132]
Breuer's Statement Makes Clear That He Only Knew About Gunwalking During The Bush-Era Operation, Not During Fast And Furious. From the Breuer statement cited by Pavlich (emphasis added):
"Throughout my tenure as Assistant Attorney General, one of my highest priorities, and one of the central missions that I have set for the Criminal Division, has been to work with our Mexican counterparts to fight the scourge of drug trafficking and violence in Mexico, and to address the public safety crisis along the Southwest Border of the United States. That is why, among many other steps, in 2009, I offered Southwest Border U.S. Attorneys' Offices assistance from one of the Criminal Division's experienced prosecutors to assist in gun trafficking prosecutions.
"In response to that offer, the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office asked the Criminal Division prosecutor to assume responsibility for Operation Wide Receiver, and the Criminal Division's Gang Unit agreed to do so, despite not having been involved in the underlying flawed investigation of the matter by the Tuscon Field Office of the ATF's Phoenix Field Division in 2006 and 2007.
"As that prosecutor evaluated the case in the fall of 2009, she realized that ATF's investigation -- which had concluded two years earlier -- had included the use of misguided tactics that had resulted in ATF losing control of numerous guns that then crossed the border into Mexico. This information was brought to my attention in April 2010.
"When I learned of the unacceptable tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver, I instructed one of my Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals to schedule a meeting with ATF's Acting Director and Deputy Director to bring these issues to their attention. The next day, my Deputy contacted ATF leadership to arrange a meeting, and approximately one week later, my deputy met with the ATF Deputy Director and others to discuss this matter.
"In prosecuting the defendants in Operation Wide Receiver, the Criminal Division focused on how to ensure that those responsible for illegal firearms trafficking were brought to justice, despite the flaws in the investigation.
"Knowing what I now know was a pattern of unacceptable and misguided tactics used by the ATF, I regret that I did not alert others within the leadership of the Department of Justice to the tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver when they first came to my attention.
"When the allegations related to Operation Fast and Furious became public earlier this year, the leadership of ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona repeatedly assured individuals in the Criminal Division and the leadership of the Department of Justice that those allegations were not true. As a result, I did not draw a connection between the unacceptable tactics used by the ATF years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver and the allegations made about Operation Fast and Furious, and therefore did not, at that time, alert others within Department leadership of any similarities between the two. That was a mistake, and I regret not having done so. [Breuer statement, 10/31/11]
CLAIM: Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler Knew "The Details" Of Fast And Furious. From the book:
One of Eric Holder's deputies at the Justice Department, Gary Grindler, also went to the ATF Phoenix Field Division. He too was briefed on the details of Fast and Furious. Among other things, Grindler was told about the most prolific straw purchaser, Uriel Patino, and how many guns he had purchased with ATF assistance. Grindler took notes, scribbling on a photocopied picture of guns that had been collected from violent crime scenes in Mexico.
The news [of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry's death] worked its way through the Justice Department. On December 17, Acting Deputy Attorney General, Gary Grindler who had known about the details of Fast and Furious since March 2010, received an email from another Department of Justice official. [Fast and Furious, p. 51, 65]
REALITY: Obama Administration Says Grindler Wasn't Briefed On Flawed Tactics Used In Operation. CBS News reported:
The briefing Grindler attended was on March 12, 2010, six months into ATF's Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed thousands of weapons on the street in an attempt to track down Mexican drug cartels. Portions of the documents are redacted.
In handwritten notes about Fast and Furious that are not all legible, Grindler writes about "seizures in Mexico" and "links to cartel." He also noted "seizures in Mexico" on a map of Phoenix, the home base for Fast and Furious, and Mexico locations where some guns ended up. And Grindler made notations on a photograph of several dozen rifles.
There is no specific mention of the controversial tactic known as "letting guns walk" which, law enforcement sources say, was the heart of the Fast and Furious case.
Late today, a spokesman for the Justice Department told CBS News that "Much like presentations given in 2010 on the status of ATF's investigative efforts along the SW Border to many others - including a briefing to Chairman Issa within the same timeframe - this one did not get into the operational tactics that have since raised concerns... Indeed, as both the former U.S. Attorney in Arizona and the former Acting Director of ATF (who provided this briefing) have made clear, they did not themselves know the operational details and did not brief Justice officials on them." [CBSNews.com, 10/7/11]
CLAIM: AAG Breuer "Carefully Review[ed] Every Word" Of Letter To Sen. Grassley Which Incorrectly Said ATF Never Sanctioned Gunwalking. From the book:
Breuer approved a response to Grassley, after carefully reviewing every word. The letter, sent to Grassley on February 4, 2011, was signed by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich.
"At the outset, the allegation described in your January 27 letter - that ATF 'sanctioned' or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers who then transported them to Mexico - is false," Weich wrote. [Fast and Furious, p. 76]
REALITY: Grassley Press Release Pavlich Cited Says It Is "Unclear" If Breuer Read The Letter. Pavlich cites a December 2, 2011, Grassley press release to support her statement about Breuer. But that press release says it is "unclear" if Breuer read the letter, and includes his testimony to Congress:
Based on the documents being produced by the Justice Department, I understand that two emails attaching drafts of the letter were sent to me by DAAG Weinstein on February 2, while I was in Mexico (February 1-3), and that I forwarded one of those emails to my personal email account on that day; I also understand that on February 4, after I had returned from Mexico, I received two emails attaching signed versions of the letter, including the final version, and that on February 5, I forwarded both emails to my personal email account. However, as I testified, I cannot say for sure whether I saw a draft of the letter before it was sent to you. [Grassley press release, 12/2/11]
Pavlich Falsely Claimed Former ATF Chief Melson Said A "Smoking Gun" Report Detailed DOJ Leaders Who Approved Fast And Furious Tactics
CLAIM: Melson "Said There Was A 'Smoking Gun' Report Detailing" DOJ Officials Who Approved The Tactics Used During Fast And Furious. From the book:
In July, however, in secret testimony to Issa and his staff, Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson - who for months had been blocked by the Justice Department from testifying, but was finally informed he was allowed to do so outside of his official capacity with a personal lawyer - confirmed the Justice Department's involvement in Operation Fast and Furious. He also confirmed suspicions that informants with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the FBI had been involved and said there was a "smoking gun" report detailing who in the Justice Department approved the wiretaps and tactics for Fast and Furious. [Fast and Furious, p. 106-107]
REALITY: Melson's "Smoking Gun" Showed The Strategy Was Flawed, Not Who Approved It. Melson's testimony was excerpted in a letter from Issa and Grassley to the DOJ (emphasis in the letter):
I assigned a task force of agents to read through all the [Reports of Investigation or ROIs] to determine whether or not the allegations that were being made by individuals in CBS and Senator Grassley were true or not, because frankly we didn't think they were true.
They did a review of those and found nothing that would indicate that that was true. I then asked them to bring to me all the ROIs that pertained to [one defendant] in particular and I read through those and found ROIs that indeed suggested that interdiction could have occurred, and probably should have occurred, but did not occur.
And it was at that point that I took that ROI and gave it to our people and the Department.
In fact, we briefed and gave it to [the Associate Deputy Attorney General with responsibility for ATF] in particular, because to me that was a smoking gun that we really needed to look at the rest of this particular case. [Issa Grassley letter, 7/18/11]
CLAIM: ATF's Newell And Voth Received "Promotion[s]." From the book.
These revelations did not prevent the promotion of some of the leaders of Operation Fast and Furious. In early August 2011, it was announced that Bill Newell had been promoted to ATF headquarters as a special assistant to the assistant director of the agency's Office of Management, and Fast and Furious Supervisor David Voth, who had a habit of threatening subordinates and directly oversaw straw purchasing, was offered a promotion in ATF's Tobacco Division. [Fast and Furious, p. 126-127]
REALITY: ATF Says They Were Lateral Moves Without Increased Responsibility Or Salary. From the Los Angeles Times:
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that three supervisors in its controversial Fast and Furious gun-trafficking investigation were transferred to lateral jobs, not promoted.
"They did not receive salary or grade increases, nor did they assume positions with greater responsibility," the agency said in a short statement. ...
"These transfers/reassignments have never been described as promotions in any of the documents announcing them," the ATF's statement said. [LA Times, 8/17/11]
CLAIM: "The Explicitly Liberal Media Treated The Fast And Furious Story As... 'One Of The Right's Latest Conspiracy Theories.'" From the book:
Like the New York Times and the Washington Post, the explicitly liberal media treated the Fast and Furious story as the leftist magazine Mother Jones did, calling it "one of the right's latest conspiracy theories." The left-wing news blog Talking Points Memo called the connection between Fast and Furious and the Obama administration's gun control agenda "outlandish." The Daily Show's Jon Stewart called it "f*****g crazy." MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said the coverage of Fast and Furious was a result of "the insane paranoid message from the NRA." The George Soros-funded Media Matters for America called it "hysterical rhetoric." Chris Matthews said that those who deemed fast and Furious worthy of investigation were "another strain of the crazy far right." [Fast and Furious, p. 84]
REALITY: In Some Cases Media Were Referring To The Conspiracy Theory That The Obama Administration Had The Operation Deliberately Fail To Bolster Gun Control Efforts, Not The Scandal Itself.
- Mother Jones reported:
With the help of the National Rifle Association, Fast and Furious has become one of the right's latest conspiracy theories. It goes something like this: Fast and Furious was actually a scheme by Holder to promote gun control. The NRA claims that Holder allowed American gun dealers to sell AK-47s and other powerful assault rifles so that they would be used to kill people in the Mexican drug war, thereby creating the political will for more restrictions on gun ownership in the United States. [Mother Jones, 12/7/11]
- Talking Points Memo reported:
Some, like Rep. Darrell Issa, have suggested that the Obama administration decided after the scandal broke to discuss the larger issue of gun trafficking and the need for better tools (like a rule requiring dealers to report sales of multiple "long guns") to stop it.
But there's a separate category of individuals who buy into a more outlandish scenario: those who believe that Fast and Furious was launched by the Obama administration to implement gun control. [TPM Media, 12/16/11]
REALITY: In Other Cases Media Were Actually Referring To Comments From The NRA, Not Fast And Furious.
- On MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews said:
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s something -- another strain of the crazy far right. Here`s the National Rifle Association`s Wayne Lapierre -- and I`ve known this guy a long time. I`m astounded by this new accusation that the president is leading some conspiracy. Anyway, here he is, Wayne Lapierre, head of the NPR -- not National Public Radio, National Rifle Association, at the conservative conference if Florida last week. Let`s listen to Wayne Lapierre of the National Rifle Association.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The president will offer the 2nd Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he`s actually been good for the 2nd Amendment. But it`s a big, fat, stinking lie! It`s all part -- it`s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the 2nd Amendment in our country!
Before the president was even sworn into office, they met and they hatched a conspiracy of public deception to try to guarantee his reelection in 2012.
(END VIDEO CLIP) [MSNBC, Hardball, 9/27/11, via Nexis]
- Jon Stewart said of LaPierre's comment, "it's so crazy, it's fucking crazy." Stewart did not discuss Fast and Furious during that segment. [Comedy Central, The Daily Show, 9/29/11]
- Rachel Maddow highlighted the same comment from LaPierre, saying: "The NRA says the way you can tell Obama is coming for your guns is that he's not coming for your guns. It's genius. That is the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year." [MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/1/11]
- Media Matters reported: "For years, the NRA has warned that nationwide gun bans and confiscation were right around the corner. These threats made up in hysterical rhetoric for what they lacked in credibility." [Media Matters, 12/27/11]
Pavlich Falsely Claimed Holder Said School Massacres Proved Second Amendment Should Be Read As Collective Right
CLAIM: Holder "Insisted" VA Tech, Columbine Massacres "Evidence Enough" Second Amendment Is Not An Individual Right. From Pavlich's book:
One year before Obama's election, Holder joined an amicus brief with Janet Reno defending Washington, D.C., against a resident challenging the city's ban on guns. Although the Supreme Court overturned the ban and rejected Holder's arguments, Holder insisted that the Virginia Tech and Columbine massacres proved "the deadly toll that firearms exact" and were evidence enough that the Second Amendment should be read as a collective, not an individual, right. [Fast and Furious, p. 22]
REALITY: Brief Actually Cited Court Precedent, Text Of Second Amendment And Its Drafting History And Historical Context. While the amicus brief joined by Holder did reference the Virginia Tech and Columbine massacres in passing, the thrust of its argument was that the Supreme Court should construe the Second Amendment as a collective right was:
As the briefs filed by the petitioners and their amici in this case explain, the original, longstanding position of the Department of Justice [that the Second Amendment should be read as a collective right], embraced by this Court in Miller and by all the federal courts of appeals until the Emerson decision and the decision below, is firmly rooted in the text of the Second Amendment, its drafting history, and the historical context in which it was enacted. Given the strength of the Department's original position and its acceptance by the courts, the decision to abandon it in 2001 was unjustified.
The decision was also unwise. Recognition of an expansive individual right to keep and bear arms for private purposes will make it more difficult for the government to defend present and future firearms laws. With gun violence continuing to plague the United States, this Court should adhere to the position it staked out nearly 70 years ago in Miller and construe the Second Amendment to protect a right to keep and bear arms only to the extent the exercise of such a right is related to the "preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia." [Brief for former Department of Justice officials as amici curiae supporting petitioners, District of Columbia v. Heller, January 2008]
CLAIM: Due To Mexican Cartel Threat, Part Of Wildlife Refuge Was Closed In June 2010. From Pavlich's book:
In June 2010, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu declared flatly that parts of Arizona were under the cartels' control... That same month, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife closed 3,500 acres of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge that stretches into the Arizona desert from the Mexican border. Because of the Mexican drug cartels, the area was deemed too dangerous for tourists. [Fast and Furious, p. 11-12]
REALITY: That Portion Of Refuge Was Closed In 2006. From a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release:
Several media outlets have been inaccurately reporting that a massive stretch of the US border at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was recently closed. Buenos Aires NWR in southern Arizona has not been closed to the public. Nearly 5-years ago, a very small portion of the Refuge closed to public access due to public safety concerns. However, the remainder (97%) of the refuge's 118,000 acres is open to the public for recreational activities such as hiking, camping, birdwatching, and seasonal hunting.
Recent news items further falsely stated that the closure extends from the border 80-miles to the north. This distance is far from accurate. On October 6, 2006 roughly 3500 acres, or 3% of the Refuge, was closed to public access due to human safety concerns. At that time there was a marked increase in violence along the border due to human and drug trafficking. The closed area extends north from the international border roughly ¾ of a mile. A notice of the closure, including a map has been on the Refuge website since 2006. [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release, June 2010]
REALITY: Fish And Wildlife Service Says "Significant Decline In Violent Activity In The Area" Since 2006. From the release:
At this time there are no plans to reopen this southernmost 3/4-mile wide portion of the Refuge.
However, since 2006 the Refuge has experienced a significant decline in violent activity in the area thanks to ongoing cooperation between the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Customs and Border Protection. The Refuge will reopen the area at such time that it is determined to be safe for visitors. [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release, June 2010]
REALITY: In June 2010 Fox News Pushed False Story That The Refuge Had Recently Been Closed And That Obama Gave Area "Back To Mexico." On June 15 Fox's Shanon Bream reported: "A massive stretch of Arizona now off limits to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico." [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 7/15/10, via Media Matters]