Congressional investigators digging into Operation Fast and Furious have, for the first time, asked a senior White House official for documents and communications regarding the gun-walking scandal. In a Friday letter to President Obama’s national security adviser Thomas Donilon, House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa and Senate judiciary committee Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley requested all records and communications involving three senior Obama administration officials regarding Fast and Furious and gun trafficking cases in Phoenix, Ariz.
Issa and Grassley also requested copies of all communications those three officials had with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) field personnel in Phoenix.
The written request from Capitol Hill came shortly after it was discovered that the lead ATF agent on Operation Fast and Furious, William Newell, communicated with three White House officials about some details of the operation.
The three White House officials reported to have communicated with Newell on the botched ATF program are Kevin M. O’Reilly, director of North American Affairs for the White House national security staff; Dan Restrepo, the president’s senior Latin American advisor; and Greg Gatjanis, a White House national security official.
The emails in question were sent between July 2010 and February 2011, before the scandalous ATF program was exposed, according the Los Angeles Times, which first reported on them.
The LA Times says a senior administration official denies that the emails which Newell sent to O’Reilly — who later briefed Restrepo and Gatjanis –included details about “investigative tactics” used in the program. By “investigative tactics,” the White House means the methods ATF agents used to facilitate the sale of firearms to drug cartels via “straw purchasers,” or people who could legally buy guns in the U.S. but did so with the intention of selling them to others who would traffic them into Mexico.
In their letter, Issa and Grassley asked the White House to provide the requested communications by noon on September 23, but sooner if possible. They are also requesting a transcribed interview with O’Reilly by the end of September, setting a September 14 deadline to set a date for that interview.
Though the White House has claimed these newly discovered emails did not contain any details about “investigative tactics” the executive branch of the U.S. government used in Operation Fast and Furious, one communication has surfaced suggesting otherwise.
In an August 18, 2010, email to O’Reilly, Newell described the course of one part of the investigation.
“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,” Newell wrote. “We routinely have ‘straw’ purchasers tell us that ‘yeah, I knew what I was doing was wrong but the money was good and who cares — the guns are going to Mexico right?’”