ATF agent denies ‘walking’ guns into Mexico

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent Brian Newell continues to deny Operation Fast and Furious allowed for guns to be “walked” into Mexico.

“Sir, in this investigation, we did not let guns walk,” Newell told House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, at a Tuesday hearing.

Newell was the lead agent in ATF’s Phoenix field office throughout Operation Fast and Furious.

“You’re entitled to your own opinions, not to your own facts,” Issa responded. “But, there comes a point when I go, ‘Wait a second: 730 weapons bought by a man who had no money. Every penny he bought with he had to get from somebody.’ You knew that at some point. You knew who was buying them and you allowed it to continue.”

After Newell’s outright denial of “walking” guns into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, asked Newell to define “walking” guns.

“My definition of walking, and I believe it’s a common law enforcement term, is when a law enforcement agency, whether it be DEA or a state or local agency, actually puts some sort of evidence into the hands of a suspect in an undercover operation or an investigation and, for instance, with the ATF it could be one of our prop guns, and then don’t follow up where that is going,” Newell said, adding that he believed his definition of “walking” guns did not happen in Operation Fast and Furious.

Newell said his and ATF’s goal with Operation Fast and Furious was to target and take down higher-ranking criminals instead of lowly “straw purchasers.”

Straw purchasers are people who purchase weapons with the goal of selling them to Mexican drug cartels.

Newell and ATF’s assistant director for field operations in the West, William McMahon, told the House oversight committee they planned to tell Mexican law enforcement authorities about the operation as soon as they got results.

Until that point, Mexico-based ATF officials, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and the Mexican government were not informed of several major components of Operation Fast and Furious, if they received any information at all. ATF’s current acting attaché to Mexico, Carlos Canino, told the committee that he’s appalled at how ATF and Justice Department officials handled this investigation. Canino said ATF officials picked which laws they were going to enforce and which ones they weren’t.

“In this case, they threw the ATF best practices manual out the window,” Canino said. “You let a guy buy 730 guns – at what point are you going to stop him?”

Newell did, however, admit “mistakes were made” with Fast and Furious. In response to that, though, Issa said the American people deserve answers. “There comes a point when we have to have more than just ‘mistakes were made,’” Issa said.