Former Tucson DEA head: Holder either knew of gun-walking, or was willfully unaware

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

Former Tucson Drug Enforcement Administration chief Tony Coulson told The Daily Caller that Attorney General Eric Holder either knew guns were walking during Operation Fast and Furious, or should have known about the deadly practice.

“[Fast and Furious] was driven locally and it was driven from Arizona, from the ground up, I mean it was not much oversight,” Coulson said in a phone interview. “And, I mean, I can only speak to the reporting, but people all the way up to the attorney general knew what was going on.”

Coulson, who ran the DEA’s Tucson office during Fast and Furious’ implementation, told TheDC he learned that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was letting guns walk back in 2009 or 2010. He said he learned this from people who were working in the Phoenix Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. He didn’t know it was called “Fast and Furious,” but said it was widely known guns were walking.

“Nothing that [ATF] was doing was running into what we were doing at DEA from the Tucson level,” Coulson said. “Now, Phoenix was a little bit different. They were, their targets kept running into DEA cases and I think that was reported out of the House letter last week. But in Tucson, we weren’t running into them. How I became aware of it was through Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

“At the time, [ATF’s] boss here, Bill Newell, was the face and the voice of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,” Coulson added. “If you go back during this time, he’s the one who’s on every major national news station. He’s talking about weapons in Mexico. You know, he was the voice of ATF. I mean, he was driving ATF’s policy. There was very little oversight at the time from anyone on what was going on. I became aware of it because ICE interceded on more than one occasion to seize weapons at the port of entry that ATF was trying to walk into Mexico.”

ICE falls under the Department of Homeland Security, and with the news that Holder hasn’t discussed Fast and Furious with its Secretary Janet Napolitano or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, there are likely to be new questions into what, if anything, those cabinet officials were told of Fast and Furious.

And, contrary to the picture Holder has tried to paint during his congressional hearing appearances, Coulson said that “yeah, absolutely” law enforcement officials were widely aware the ATF was using gun-walking tactics in Arizona. Coulson went so far as to say he suspects Holder himself was aware of the tactic, or was willfully unaware — meaning he didn’t want to know and made sure he wasn’t informed of gun-walking. (RELATED: Full coverage of Operation Fast and Furious)

“If someone brings something to your attention and not really all the facts are brought to your attention, yeah we’re sending guns into Mexico, if he [Holder] chooses not to ask the next question, and then makes a statement ‘I didn’t know about that then’ but did find out about it when it became a hot topic issue when he decided well, ‘I should ask that next question now: Are you really walking guns into Mexico?’” Coulson said. “That leads to the next question, which is: ‘Are the Mexicans seizing, recovering those weapons before they’re used in a crime?’ The answer is no.”

And with the widespread knowledge of gun-walking among federal officials in Arizona, Coulson said there’s “no way” people in Washington, D.C., at ATF headquarters and in the Department of Justice didn’t know what was going on.

“I don’t have any firsthand knowledge, but there’s no way people [in Washington, D.C., at ATF headquarters and Main Justice] can say they didn’t know,” Coulson said. “Whether they paid attention to it, whether they thought it was important, how much information exactly did they have? But, you know, at the time, ATF was really laying the story on about these weapons and how this is how they were following investigations to the next level, and how this was leading to ‘big arrests’ and Mexicans tracking guns, which was all kind of smoke and mirrors.”

Coulson also said most other law enforcement officials in Arizona knew Newell had a gun control agenda behind his actions with Fast and Furious and other operations. “Whenever Bill would make those [anti-gun rights] statements [with inflated gun trafficking statistics], everyone would roll their eyes and say, ‘when is someone going to call him on this?’” Coulson said. “That’s because it was only weapons which the Mexican government seized which they chose to trace back to the United States.”

“[Newell] is trying to make this political statement that there is this river of guns, which then the Mexican government picked up on, and said ‘it’s your guns, that’s why we’re having all this violence here,’” Coulson added. “And there’s never any accounting for the fact that probably a majority of the guns, in terms of what law enforcement generally knows, are coming up through Central America and they’re coming from other countries. The 90 percent figure has been debunked as you go along the way. It’s actually something considerably less. … They’re just picking a figure and saying 90 percent of the weapons they seized come from the U.S. Well, really, it’s 90 percent of the weapons that they choose to do a search on results in it originating from the U.S.”

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