Yesterday morning we learned that the administration was trying to obstruct the congressional hearings with intimidating letters to the ATF agents about to testify, later in the day we learned why, at least one person on the White House staff was told about the flawed operation.
With Special Agent in Charge William Newell sitting on the committee hot seat, we not only know that the program's strategy found its way into the White House, but to the IRS, Drug Enforcement Agency and ICE.
Newell testified he discussed Operation Fast & Furious with his old friend, White House National Security Director for North America Kevin O’Reilly. Issa’s committee got its hands on an email from Newell that began with the frightening words, “you didn’t get this from me.”
Newell says O’Reilly was “asking about the impact of Project Gunrunner to brief people in preparation for a trip to Mexico… what we were doing to combat firearms trafficking and other issues.” A White House spokesman denied this exchange had anything to do with Operation Fast and Furious.
But as you can see below, that's not what the testimony reflected:
LABRADOR: Special Agent Newell, do you know who Kevin O'Reilly is?Later in the hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy picked up the O'Reilly connection to press for more information:
NEWELL: Yes, Sir.
LABRADOR: What's the nature of your relationship with him?
NEWELL: I've known Kevin for ‑ I'd say probably 10‑12 years?
LABRADOR: How often do you communicate with him?
NEWELL: Oh, I haven't communicated with him in a while but probably three or four times a year or something like that. Or maybe ‑ maybe more depending on him reaching out to me.
LABRADOR: Isn't it a little bit unusual for a special agent in charge of an ATF field division to have direct email contact with the national security staff at the White House?
NEWELL: He's ‑ he's a friend of mine.
LABRADOR: How many times did you talk to him about this case?
NEWELL: The specifics of this case? I don't think I ‑‑ I mean ‑‑ I don't think I had one specific conversation with him about the specifics of this case.
LABRADOR: OK. Who ...
ISSA (?): Would the gentleman allow me to help him a little? Not that you need it, but could you take the word specific out and ‑ and answer the general ‑‑ did you talk to him about this case?
NEWELL: I might have talked to him about this case. Yes, Sir.
ISSA(?): Do you know when that was?
NEWELL: It was probably ‑‑ I ‑‑ as I recall I think it was during the summer ‑‑ it might have been the summer or early fall of 2010.
GOWDY: Let me ask you this. When you begin a sentence, "You didn't get this from me..." what does that mean to you?Operation Fast and Furious has become like a dripping faucet, every day a bit more information leaks out. Just this week we learned that conflicted US felons were allowed to purchase weapons without background checks, an administration cover up, and that the scope of the project was much wider than originally thought. Maybe its time for the Administration fess up and stop stonewalling.
NEWELL: Just means that didn't get it from me.
GOWDY: Well, but that's kind of a pleonasm, isn't it, because you are getting it from them? So it's a ‑‑ what do you mean by that, "You didn't get this from me..."? I'm referring to your e‑mail to Mr. O'Reilly (ph).
NEWELL: Well, obviously Mr. O'Reilly (ph) was a friend of mine and it's ‑‑ it's ‑‑ I shouldn't have been sending him that, obviously, I recognize that, it being a friend.
GOWDY: But what do you mean, "You didn't get this from me..."? Does that mean you should not have been talking to him about it?
NEWELL: Not that I shouldn't have been talking about. He's a friend of mine. He asked for information and I provided it to him.
GOWDY: Well, then, why wasn't it appropriate for you to give it to him? Why would you preface it by saying, "You didn't get this from me..."? Was it an improper communication?
NEWELL: No, it wasn't an improper communication.
GOWDY: Well, then, why would you preface it by that?
NEWELL: It's ‑‑ he's been a friend of mine for a long time and he asked me for information. So I gave him information that ‑‑ it's probably an improper use of the term or phrase.