Ogden’s directive was an official policy statement directing agents to stop focusing exclusively on arresting straw purchasers. Instead,the Department of Justice would zero in on more complex conspiracy cases.
The Ogden memo and its explicit support from senior administration officials opened the door for agents like Bill Newell, who led ATF’s Phoenix field division, to allow guns to walk in large numbers. Newell, one of five officials to whom Issa and Grassley have pointed as responsible for Operation Fast and Furious, had already tried similar tactics during the George W. Bush administration.
As part of Operation Wide Receiver, an initiative of the Bush administration, Newell walked approximately 300 weapons in conjunction with Mexican law enforcement. (By contrast, Fast and Furious did not involve Obama administration officials working with Mexican authorities on the other side of the border.) The Bush DOJ ultimately dropped criminal cases resulting from Operation Wide Receiver without any public explanation.
When Obama became president, Newell’s failed Wide Receiver case was re-opened under orders from Breuer, who sent resources and manpower to Arizona to try to prosecute the case’s targets — another indication of possible Obama administration support for gunwalking.
Congressional investigators allege that with newfound support from Ogden and Breuer, the atmosphere in the Obama administration had become clear: It was now acceptable to allow guns to walk, and political leaders in Washington supported the tactic.
Issa and Grassley cite a transcribed interview, conducted with ATF Assistant Agent in Charge George Gillett, to support their allegation that gunwalking under the Obama administration originated with Ogden. At ATF, Gillett supervised David Voth, another central figure in Operation Fast and Furious.
In that interview, Gillett told congressional investigators that the Ogden memo “specifically addressed wanting ATF not to focus on straw purchasers but to focus on cartels and larger complex conspiracy-type investigations.”
“So this strategy in October 2009, handed down by the [deputy attorney general]’s office, actually from the Phoenix perspective, was well-timed and provided us with direction on how to proceed in these types of firearms trafficking investigations,” Gillett said during that interview.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler did not respond to a request for comment for this story.