Emails Indicate Justice Dept. Tried To Conceal Gun Walking Operations

December 06, 2011

— New emails released by the Department of Justice show that top officials were worried about the public’s perception of its gun walking programs in Arizona even before two of those guns turned up at the scene of a Border Patrol agent’s murder.

Emails related to Operation Fast and Furious have slowly been trickling out of the federal government and out of Senator Chuck Grassley’s office (R-Iowa). This new batch suggests high level officials in Washington D.C. knew the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was letting guns walk into Mexico and wanted to keep that from the public as far back as last year.

In April 2010, deputy assistant attorney general Jason Weinstein wrote an email asking Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer to seal the federal court cases related to Operation Wide Receiver; that was the initial gun walking program. Nine people were ultimately indicted and sentenced to prison as a result of that operation. But for more than one year, the defendants successfully smuggled guns from Tucson to Tijuana, MX and to Caborca, MX with the full knowledge of the ATF in Phoenix.

In that email, Weinstein wanted to minimize the amount of information about the gun walking program that would be made public. He wrote:

"Jim T and I met with Billy Hoover and with laura [sic] and Alisa to talk about this gun trafficking case with the issues about the guns being allowed to walk for Investigative purposes. Can fill you tomorrow in more detail but we all think the best move is to indict both Wide Receiver I and Wide Receiver II under seal and then unseal as part of Project Deliverance, where focus will be on aggregate seizures and not on particulars of any one indictment."

Two days later, Weinstein authored another email, this time worried about embarrassing the ATF if Wide Receiver was made public because weapons had disappeared in Mexico. He wrote:

"As you'll recall from Jim's briefing, ATF let a bunch of guns walk in effort to get upstream conspirators but only got straws, and didn't recover many guns. Some were recovered in MX after being used in crimes. Billy, Jim, Laura, Alisa and I all think the best way to announce the case without highlighting the negative part of the story and risking embarrassing ATF [sic] is as part of Deliverance."

Photo courtesy U.S. Border Patrol.
Slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Project Deliverance was announced in June 2010. It was a massive operation in 16 states that netted 2,266 arrests, tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana seizures, plus more than 500 weapons. Weinstein's emails suggest the Wide Receiver arrests could be buried in the dragnet. The Justice Department did disseminate some of those missing emails to reporters last week. However, the agency attempted to bury still more of the information it had released. Sen. Grassley's office sent an email to reporters alerting them that the Justice Department left out a crucial page. On Feb. 4, 2011, the agency sent a letter to Grassley saying it had no knowledge of gun walking programs initiated by its offices in Phoenix. After the Justice Department was rebuked for the bad information in the letter, Breuer said he had never read the letter. However, in the missing document provided by Grassley is an email correspondence between Breuer and Weinstein. Breuer read the Feb. 4 letter Weinstein had written and then replied: "Great Work." Brian Terry, the slain Border Patrol agent, died during a confrontation with bandits in a canyon outside of Nogales, Arizona in December 2010. So far, only one man has been publicly charged with Terry’s murder.