Wow. Its déjà vù all over again. The Gunwalker scandal – in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) stands accused of smuggling guns into Mexico, arming the drug runners that murdered Border Patrol Agent Terry – is one of those seemingly innocent little land mines that blows up big. Contemplating the chain of command that must have authorized this profoundly illegal program, considering the administration’s response to the growing scandal, the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, and I’m taken back to the decade we called the 70s. Let’s take a closer look at this latter day potentially presidential scandal…
The ATF has long been an “also-ran” federal agency. As RF has pointed out on many occasions, their work overlaps that of the FBI, DEA, DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, state and local police and others. Since the ATF’s elevation to federal agency status (July 1, 1972), the ATF has been struggling to justify their existence.
When Mexican President Felipe Calderon took America to task [falsely] for arming the Mexican drug cartels, it was Christmas at the ATF. Finally, they had a reason to live. They secured a “mandate” (read: a fully-funded $160m budget) from the Obama administration to curb the so-called “Iron River” of guns flowing from the U.S. into Mexico. It was the first expansion of the ATF in decades.
Here’s the crux of the problem and the setup for the coverup: there IS no river of guns flowing into Mexico. While a few hundred firearms might cross America’s southern border on a annual basis, the Iron River is but a trickle. Not surprisingly, given the lack of a problem to solve and at least five federal agencies attempting to solve it, the ATF managed to apprehend only a few small time gun smugglers. And…that was it.
In November, The Inspector General issued a report condemning the ATF’s Project Gunrunner program in no uncertain terms. Specifically, the IG excoriated the ATF for bureaucratic inefficiency and failing to nab the gun-smuggling “kingpins.” Well duh. There ARE no kingpins.
The pressure for results increased dramatically. Like a gunfighter under pressure, the ATF turned to its core competency: entrapment. As TTAG has reported numerous times, the ATF has a long and ignoble history of using “sting” operations to catch illegal firearms purchasers. There were a few not-so-notable gun running busts, including an Arizona plumber.
As part of this Project Gunrunner effort, the ATF “allowed” straw purchases headed for Mexico to go through. This information first broke cover when a Houston gun dealer told the world that the ATF had green-lighted illegal rifle sales to [alleged] Mexican gun runners. In and of itself, the practice was both ineffective and reprehensible. If it could be proved that the ATF had actually put the buyers up for the deal, well, nothing. Again, quasi-legal ATF “stings” are background noise.
Only these authorized straw man purchases didn’t really work. Not on the scale that the IG and the ATF’s collective ego demanded. It’s a lot harder to sneak IN to Mexico than it is OUT of Mexico. (A one-way, revolving door. How nice.) And so the main accusation: ATF agents escorted said straw purchasers – and their “assault rifles” – across the Rio Grande and into Mexico.
When Agent Terry was killed by drug smugglers, the net was immediately abuzz with the possibility that he was shot with one of the weapons “eased” into Mexico by the ATF. At first, the notion seemed incredible. But it was soon clear that the feds went into full disaster containment mode over Agent Terry’s murder, giving credence to the rumors.
The intrepid Janet Napolitano, head honcho of Homeland Security and former Arizona Governor, raced to the scene of the crime. Since then it’s been radio silence. The FBI has refused to provide the names of the men arrested for Terry’s murder. They also put a lid on any and all other investigative findings. The Agency “declined” to honor a Freedom of Information Act request to provide information on the weapons found at the crime scene.
Meanwhile, the ATF has already decided on its defense, as illustrated by a story at usatoday.com
Bill Newell, ATF special agent in charge for Arizona, said the five separate cases, all part of Project Gunrunner, demonstrate the corruptive reach of Mexican cartels using straw buyers to acquire guns in Arizona for illegal shipment south.
Asked whether agents purposely allowed firearms to enter Mexico as part of an investigation, Newell answered, “Hell, no.” But, he said, suspects under surveillance sometimes elude agents, which could result in guns winding up in Mexico.
So it was an “accident.” Unless the ATF agents did, in fact, walk the guns into Mexico. In that case, there will be hell to pay.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider the implications. The ATF allowed perhaps even transported weapons into Mexico. Two of those weapons may have been used to murder a federal officer. If true, the head of the ATF knows this. The head of the FBI knows this. The head of the Department of Homeland Security knows this. Did anyone bother to tell the President of the United States? One can only assume so.
So what did President Obama know about Project Gunrunner’s criminal conspiracy to murder and when did he know it?
Enter Sen. Charles Grassley, who, By God, is Going To Get To The Bottom Of This. He’s written a letter to acting ATF head Kenneth Melson. Melson is stonewalling. Meanwhile, Grassley says the ATF has read the riot act to the ATF whistleblower who provided evidence of the connection between Project Gunrunner and Agent Terry’s murder.
The administration hasn’t come clean, and shows no inclination to do so. Their instinct is to circle the wagons, damn the torpedoes and stonewall, stonewall, stonewall. But all that stonewalling leads to wretched excesses, where one question ducked leads to a misinterpretation, never corrected, which festers and boils, until you have a real, honest-to God cover-up on your hands.
I don’t want to come across as a nattering nabob of negativism. I’m deeply skeptical of the idea that the President of the United States knew that the ATF was smuggling guns into Mexico – at least until this scandal broke. I think this was a bottom-up job. Clumsy? Yep. Criminal? Definitely. But Obama’s fault (other than failing to keep a watchful eye on the ATF)? Nope. However…
The cover-up is a genuine concern that could well be laid at the feet of the president. Ask yourself a couple of questions…Why did a cabinet-level chieftain fly down to personally oversee the…the…what, exactly? Investigation? Stonewalling? Cover-up? I dunno.
And nobody else outside of the Administration knows either. If the instructions came from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (and that’s a big IF, at this point), then Houston, we have a problem. If the White House ordered Napolitano to put a lid on this thing, that constitutes obstruction of justice. And that’s a big-time crime.
Now you’d think they’d know better. Something like this happens the first thing Obama should do is go on national TV and say something like “We don’t know what happened – yet. But we will. I am dispatching a team to the scene to get the facts. We will report on our findings every step along the way. And just like we had embedded reporters on the front lines of the war, we will embed reporters here, to make certain that there is no coverup.”
Case closed. Problem solved. The MSM gets their red meat. The damage is controlled, and limited to a black eye or a fat lip. Not a fatal wound. The way they’ve played it, we’ll have to wait and see who gets thrown under the campaign bus to prevent Obama from taking a Humpty-Dumpty-like fall from grace.
This is a really bad time for the Obama administration to have its focus diverted to matters of self-preservation. Egypt’s going up in flames. Obamacare’s been shot down in flames. The President is already facing an uphill climb for a second term. Is Obama fiddling while his administration burns?We shall see.
But as we watch the Gunwalker-gate events unfold in the Senate and on TV, remember that the Watergate scandal that destroyed a presidency started with a piece of duct tape on a door. And never forget that a brave border agent, a former Marine, may have died for the ATF’s sins.
[Click here for RF’s post Gunwalker Scandal Set to Blow]
UPDATE: The LA Times confirms that the drug gang that murdered Agent Terry used ATF-enabled rifles. The ATF is in full damage control mode, blaming low funding for their inability to “monitor” the guns. Click here for more.