Operation Fast and Furious | Media Matters for America

Operation Fast and Furious

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  • Daily Signal Contributor Sharyl Attkisson To Testify At Attorney General Nominee Lynch's Hearing

    Blog ››› ››› SOPHIA TESFAYE

    Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has been invited by Republicans to testify at a hearing on President Obama's attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. Attkisson, who writes for the conservative Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal and has been praised by Fox News and Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for her shoddy reporting, is currently involved in a lawsuit targeting the Department of Justice.

    According to a report on Monday by The Hill, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that Attkisson "will testify during this week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Loretta Lynch, Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general."

    Attkisson recently named outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ in a $35 million lawsuit alleging that federal officials hacked into her computers and phones from 2011 to 2013. Although CBS News confirmed that Attkisson's then work-issued laptop had been compromised by an unknown source, Attkisson's claim of "some government tie," suggesting the hack was conducted by government officials, has been called out for egregious inconsistencies. Nevertheless, Attkisson went on to claim that the alleged government hack had caused ongoing electronic malfunctions with the phone, television and cable systems in her home.

    But in fact, computer security experts said video released by Attkisson as evidence of a hack on her personal computer actually appeared to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key. Attkisson subsequently went on to walk back claims that the alleged hack affected her other home technology. Attkisson admitted that the issues "may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion" into her work computer.

    The Justice Department has denied Attkisson's allegations and a DOJ spokesperson told Business Insider in May 2013 that "to our knowledge, the Justice Department has never 'compromised' Ms. At[t]kisson's computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer, or other media device she may own or use."

    But despite her legal fight with the DOJ, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, called Attkisson to speak on a panel of witnesses that include Catherine Engelbrecht, the president of the voter ID group True the Vote, a conservative media favorite that actively hypes virtually non-existent voter fraud. Attkisson was praised by Issa for her shoddy reporting, which has in the past been based off misleading leaks from Issa's committee. She has also been hailed as a great reporter by many of Fox News' on-air personalities, some of whom have based their Benghazi coverage on her misinformation.  

  • Conservative Media's Latest Sharyl Attkisson "Bombshell" Is A Dud

    The Attkisson Report That A DOJ Official Called "Bullshit" Was In Fact Inaccurate

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Right-wing media are claiming that former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attikisson was "targeted" by the Obama administration because a Department of Justice press aide complained to CBS about an article Attkisson wrote about Operation Fast and Furious. In fact, the story DOJ was criticizing inaccurately accused Attorney General Eric Holder of lying to Congress.

    On November 20, conservative website PJ Media first reported on October 2011 emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by conservative group Judicial Watch. The emails contain a conversation between then-DOJ office of public affairs director Tracy Schmaler and White House communications aide Eric Schultz criticizing a CBSNews.com piece written by Attkisson.

    Schmaler wrote that she was going to contact Attkisson's editor and CBS's Bob Schieffer and called Attkisson "out of control." In a later email, Schmaler wrote that the contention of Attkisson's article was "bullshit."

    PJ Media characterized the exchange as a "bombshell" that "provides smoking gun proof that the Obama White House and the Eric Holder Justice Department colluded to get CBS News to block reporter Sharyl Attkisson."

    Conservative blogs ran with PJ Media's article, which was eventually picked up by the Drudge Report. Attkisson reacted to PJ Media's article on Glenn Beck's radio show, saying, "If you dare to go after them, they will target you, try to assassinate your character, they'll call your bosses, they'll email. We know all of this is going on, but we now have emails that they've been withholding under executive privilege that refer to this."

    The story also quickly made its way to Fox News, where America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer reported the development as "more bombshell emails revealing how the White House targeted former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson."

    That the Obama administration would complain about Attkisson's reporting is unremarkable -- the central contention of the article they were complaining about was in fact inaccurate, as later confirmed by a 2012 independent investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.

  • Fox News Debuts Its Latest Conspiratorial Attack On Attorney General Eric Holder

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano made the evidence-free claim that Attorney General Eric Holder personally approved low-level Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercover stings that have recently come under criticism because of their use of faulty investigative techniques.

    ATF storefront sting operations -- where undercover law enforcement agents set up sketchy storefronts to attract drugs and firearms which are then taken off the street -- came under scrutiny in January 2013 with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's investigative reporting on a Milwaukee sting known as Operation Fearless. According to the Journal Sentinel, Operation Fearless "resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store." A follow-up report identified six other problematic storefront stings conducted by ATF.

    The ATF has acknowledged flaws in the storefront sting process and has issued new guidelines that aim to prevent future debacles. At the same time ATF has also pointed to more than 250 convictions obtained and over 1,300 firearms recovered as a result of the stings. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is also conducting a review of four of the 37 undercover storefront operations conducted by ATF. The ATF is cooperating with the investigation and currently has no active storefront sting operations.

    Fox News is trying to pin the blame for the failed stings on Holder. On the March 4 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy introduced the idea of Holder's supposed involvement in the stings by stating, "So it's a dumb idea, it's a bad idea, it's an illegal proposition. Okay, who's at the head of the Department of Justice? Eric Holder. Would this have been approved by him?"

    Napolitano replied, "I don't know personally if it was approved by him, but it's almost inconceivable after Fast and Furious that something of this magnitude could happen without him knowing. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he had to approve it because it involved too much expenditure of money and too much manpower. They set it up in 40 different cities."

    This baseless accusation is the latest attempt by Fox News to use failed ATF law enforcement operations as a way to bludgeon Holder.

  • Right Wing Media's New "Fast And Furious" Authority Is A Guy Who Was In Jail During "Fast And Furious"

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Right-wing media are citing the claims of a high-level Mexican drug cartel figure, who faces life in prison for narcotrafficking, to advance its latest conspiracy theory about a failed federal law enforcement operation to stop the flow of guns into Mexico.

    According to Vicente Zambada-Niebla, a high-level Sinaloa Cartel figure known as "El Vicentillo" who will soon face trial in Chicago, the purpose of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was to arm the Sinaloa Cartel so that it would have the firepower to destroy rival drug cartels. Zambada-Niebla's testimony is not credible for a number of reasons, the most glaring being that he was arrested in March 2009, more than six months before the ATF even conceived of Fast and Furious.

    Despite this red flag, Zambada-Niebla's claims have been repeatedly promoted on the National Rifle Association's radio and television shows, by Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, and throughout the fringe conservative blogosphere.

  • Right-Wing Media Distort Reality To Tie Obama ATF Director Nominee To Fast And Furious


    Right-wing media are trying to damage President Obama's nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by baselessly claiming he was involved in the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.

    The failed gun trafficking sting Operation Fast and Furious ended with the indictment of 34 defendants on January 25, 2011. The investigative tactics, which involved the misguided attempt by Arizona ATF agents to track weapons to high-level targets rather than interdicting the traffickers when the opportunity presented itself, concluded some months earlier. The tactics used in Fast and Furious triggered months of controversy and the resignation of then-Acting Director Kenneth Melson. On August 30, 2011, the ATF announced that B. Todd Jones had been appointed acting director.

    Conservative media have nonetheless attempted to use a June 11 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the nomination of Jones for permanent appointment as a springboard to suggest that he was involved in Fast and Furious, which concluded months before he joined ATF.

    Mike Huckabee claimed on June 9 edition of his Fox News program that Jones "allegedly helped cover up the [Fast and Furious] scandal" while misidentifying him as "the former number two boss at ATF." Again misidentifying Jones as "a supervisor at ATF" -- he actually continues to work as a U.S. attorney while serving as acting ATF director -- Huckabee added, "Should we be concerned that here's a guy who knew about Fast and Furious, according to many sources including [ATF whistleblower Vince Cefalu] helped cover it up, now he's going to lead the agency?"

    During the segment Fox used a chyron that asked, "What did Obama's pick for ATF Dir. know about 'Fast & Furious'?"

    Conservative commentators have also posited that Jones was involved in Fast and Furious because he attended a meeting, in his capacity as chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys (AGAC), that concerned ATF plans to crack down on the trafficking of guns into Mexico. But there is no evidence the tactics used in Fast and Furious were discussed at that meeting.

  • How The NRA Hinders The ATF Director Confirmation Process


    The agency responsible for the enforcement of federal gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has not had a permanent director since 2006 largely due to obstruction from the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress. Today, a Senate hearing will consider President Obama's nomination of current acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones for permanent director.

  • Fox's Katie Pavlich Baselessly Speculates That Napolitano Lied Under Oath About Operation Fast And Furious

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Fox News contributor and Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich made the unfounded claim that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano lied about her knowledge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms' Operation Fast and Furious, a failed gun trafficking sting. This accusation is a serious one, as Napolitano has testified under oath before Congress that she was unaware of the ATF program while it was ongoing.

    Pavlich's claim, which centers around the fact that Napolitano has a relationship with the former U.S. attorney involved in Fast and Furious, is entirely speculative and is unsupported by a recent independent investigation by the DHS Office of the Inspector General. The report concluded, "The DHS Secretary did not learn about Operation Fast and Furious, its flawed methodology, or that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] had assigned an [Homeland Security Investigations] special agent to the task force until mid-March 2011" when the existence of the operation was public knowledge.

    But according to Pavlich it is "implausible" that Napolitano didn't know about Fast and Furious while the operation was ongoing because of her "personal and professional relationship" with former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who was involved in Fast and Furious. From the March 25 edition of Fox & Friends:

    GRETCHEN CARLSON, HOST: So you do not believe that it's feasible that Janet Napolitano did not know about this before she said she did?

    PAVLICH: It really is implausible that Janet Napolitano is getting off scot-free with this report. Let me tell you why. Former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who was in charge of the Department of Justice side of Operation Fast and Furious in Arizona, has a longstanding personal and professional relationship with Janet Napolitano. He served as her staffer when Janet Napolitano was the attorney general in Arizona, as her chief of staff when she was governor of Arizona, followed her into Washington D.C. as her advisor for Homeland Security for a year before being appointed back to U.S. Attorney by President Obama. At the same time he was in Arizona he was serving on Attorney General Eric Holder's advisory board and he was with Janet Napolitano two days after the murder of [U.S. Border Patrol agent] Brian Terry in Arizona and yet this report claims they never talked about this case. But it seems as if Janet Napolitano would ask about it at least.

    Pavlich's claim that Napolitano is lying about her knowledge of Fast and Furious is entirely premised on an assumption about the relationship between Napolitano and Burke and is plainly contradicted by the DHS OIG report which found no evidence that Napolitano had any knowledge of the operation prior to what she indicated in testimony before Congress.

  • A Debate Nod To Right-Wing Media Gun Conspiracies?

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    A good deal has been written about how Mitt Romney's answers on Libya at last night's presidential debate illustrated the degree to which his foreign policy is influenced by the closed conservative media feedback loop. But there was another moment from Romney last night on gun violence prevention that might indicate the degree to which the fringe right influences the Republican candidate's campaign rhetoric.

    In the middle of his answer to a question about limiting "the availability of assault weapons," Romney launched into a discourse on Operation Fast and Furious, the failed gun trafficking sting. Romney called it the "greatest failure we've had with regards to gun violence" and intimated that no one knows why it was initiated: "For what purpose it was put in place, I can't imagine. ... I'd like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence, thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords."

    What made this so odd was that there isn't any uncertainty as to what the idea behind Fast and Furious was. The operation was intended to identify and dismantle the cross-border gun-trafficking rings that operate within the United States and Mexico, and both the Justice Department's inspector general and House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) have released reports affirming that fact.

  • Fox & Friends Silent On Border Agent Death After Fast And Furious Speculation Falls Flat

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    During the October 3 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy baselessly speculated that Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie, who was fatally shot while on patrol near the Mexican border, was killed with weapons involved in the failed Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking sting. News outlets later reported that Agent Ivie's death was the result of friendly fire. But Fox & Friends has remained silent on the story, even as several other Fox News programs have reported on the friendly fire incident. 

    Kilmeade stated that the border shooting "raises tons of new questions, including whether or not the guns that killed Agent Ivie were tied to Operation Fast and Furious." Later in the segment, Doocy fueled the speculation during a discussion with former U.S. Customs Service Special Agent Terry Kirkpatrick:

    DOOCY: Terry, while it's still too early, the investigation is just barely started into the firearm that was used to kill our guy, would it surprise you if one of the guns from Fast and Furious was one of the guns used?

    KIRKPATRICK: You know and honestly it would not surprise me if that was one of the guns that was lost in the ATF scandal. 

    At the time of the Fox & Friends segment on October 3, reports indicated that no weapons had been recovered in connection to the shooting.

    State and local officials told NBC News that the ruling of friendly fire "is based on an analysis of the ballistics, the lack of evidence of other criminals in the area at the time, and other factors." According to the president of the National Border Patrol Council, Agent Ivie encountered two other agents in heavy brush and opened fire believing them to be smugglers. He was killed in the return fire. One other agent sustained nonfatal gunshot wounds. 

  • Daily Caller Reporter Invents Congressional Testimony In Crusade Against Attorney General Holder

    Matthew Boyle Flips Inspector General's Fast And Furious Testimony On Its Head

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    On conservative pundit Frank Gaffney's radio show yesterday, Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle falsified congressional testimony by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz concerning Operation Fast and Furious. Boyle incorrectly claimed that Horowitz testified that it was "unfathomable" that Attorney General Eric Holder was unaware of controversial tactics employed during the failed gun trafficking sting.

    In actuality, when Horowitz was asked, "Did you find any evidence that Attorney General Holder approved of the gun walking tactics that are under investigation -- that have been under investigation by this committee?" during a September 20 House Oversight Committee hearing, he responded, "We found no evidence that the attorney general was aware in 2010, before Senator Grassley's letter, of Operation Fast and Furious and the tactics associated with it." [C-SPAN via Nexis, 9/20/12]  

    But in an interview, Boyle distorted this testimony. He indicated that Horowitz stated before Congress that Holder was aware of the tactics used in Fast and Furious. From Boyle's interview:

    BOYLE: So the point is, is that at this point in time it's very hard to believe that Holder didn't know. And the IG [Inspector General] has actually said that before Congress. He has actually -- I can't remember the exact quote off the top of my head -- but he said something like that, "It's unfathomable that the Attorney General was unaware of this when everybody who works for him was." So basically what has happened here is there is there is a culture of plausible deniability that has been created around Holder. [emphasis added]

    An independent report issued by the Office of the Inspector General on September 19 reached the opposite conclusion, stating, "We found no evidence that Attorney General Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious, or learned about the tactics employed by ATF in the investigation, prior to January 31, 2011."

  • Rush Limbaugh Continues To Push Debunked Obama Gun Grab Conspiracy

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    During his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh again claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as an Obama administration plot to disarm Americans.  

    Limbaugh's baseless claim was refuted by a report onthe failed gun trafficking sting released by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General on Wednesday. The DOJ watchdog found "no evidence" that the agents involved in Fast and Furious had "improper motives" and that the goal of the operation was "dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization."

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: American people don't want to give up their guns. What do you do? What liberals always do. Try to create a false narrative or impression that the American people have had it and are fed up with it and we got to get guns out of people's hands. They want that cry erupting from all over America. So many people think that the point of Fast and Furious was very simple: get these guns into the hands of some of the deadliest, vicious, trigger happy criminals you can find. And they are very close. They run drug cartels south of the border. They're in Mexico. So you give them the guns and they will go crazy. Because people die in gun raids, drug cartel activities every day. And what happened was one of our agents, Brian Terry, died and more than a hundred Mexicans. And what was supposed to happen, the American people were supposed to hear this news and they were supposed to be outraged at two things. A, that drug cartels have American guns. You mean it's that easy that some local weed can cross the border buy a gun and take it home to Mexico and another to stop -- that's right. And then they start shooting people. The outcry was supposed to -- the American people were supposed to rise up in indignation. So you've gotta shut that down. We've got to stop making guns so easily. That's what they were trying to shape public opinion so that you ended up demanding gun control. 

    But Limbaugh's theory -- which MSNBC host Rachael Maddow termed the "specific" version of the National Rifle Association's grand conspiracy that Obama secretly plans to eliminate the Second Amendment if re-elected -- was debunked by the Inspector General report:

  • DOJ Inspector General Report: No Evidence For Right-Wing Media's Fast And Furious Gun Control Conspiracy

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The right-wing media's conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was hatched as a nefarious plot by the Obama administration to impose draconian gun control upon the United States has been debunked by an independent investigation into the failed gun trafficking sting.

    According to a report issued by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, there is "no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization." This is consistent with a June 2011 report by Republican congressional staff, which found that "The operation's goal was to establish a nexus between straw purchasers of assault-style weapons in the United States and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating on both sides of the United States-Mexico border." From the OIG report (emphasis added):

    ATF's Phoenix Field Division, together with the U.S. Attorney's Office, bore primary responsibility for the conduct of Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. While we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization, we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed. For reasons described in Chapters Three and Four, the Phoenix and Tucson offices adopted and adhered to a strategy that deferred taking overt action against subjects, even when evidence of the illegality of the purchasing activity was overwhelming, and we concluded, did so without adequate consideration of how that strategy placed the public at risk and what measures could be taken to minimize that risk. Further, as the case progressed, there was no discussion about whether the goals of the investigation should yield to what should have been an imperative to end the firearms trafficking taking place. 

    The Inspector General also specifically found no link between Operation Fast and Furious and plans to regulate firearms. According to the report, there is "no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation." The report also found that then-Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson did not use Fast and Furious as a justification for an ATF-backed reporting requirement for the sale of multiple assault rifles that went into effect in August 2011. From the report (emphasis added):

    Melson told the OIG that the impetus for the long gun reporting requirement came from him, though he could not recall the date that he asked his staff to pursue the matter. He also stated that when he discussed the long gun reporting requirement with staff at ATF Headquarters, "[n]o one ever suggested that [Operation Fast and Furious] was being done for purposes of supporting our position on the long guns," and that he did not make any decisions concerning the case in order to increase the likelihood that the long gun reporting requirement would be implemented. We found no evidence that contradicted Melson's statements to us concerning the long gun reporting requirement; and no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation. 

    This report directly contradicts baseless claims made about Fast and Furious by members of the right-wing media and National Rifle Association leadership.