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ATF Managers Lawyer Up, Slam Gun Laws and Still Deny Gunwalking

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The attorneys of Bill Newell, embattled former ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division, and David Voth, Supervisor of Phoenix Group VII (the group that carried out Operation Fast and Furious), are accusing Senator Charles Grassley and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa of making “many inaccurate and harmful statements” and “factual distortions against” their clients.

In a letter obtained by Townhall, attorney and former Department of Justice Prosecutor Paul E. Pelletier, representing Newell, writes on behalf his defendant to “correct the factual distortions in your staff’s ‘memorandum.’ To be clear, this faulty memorandum and the conduct of the Committee’s investigation to date has disserved the hard working ATF agents, in Phoenix and elsewhere who, with great personal sacrifice, risk their lives every day to make a difference in the communities in which we live. It is, of course, now evident that the citizens of this country are far less safe today primarily as a result of the irresponsible manner in which this ‘outcome-determined’ investigation has been conducted.”

Pelletier accuses Issa and Grassley of refusing to follow evidence in the Fast and Furious investigation, saying, “I have learned that the ultimate success and legitimacy of any investigation depends upon the capacity of investigators to blindly follow the evidence where it leads and to neutrally and dispassionately evaluate that evidence before reaching a conclusion. Given your staff’s tortured factual conclusions, your staff’s utter disregard of any evidence that contravened or rebutted the preordained and misdirected conclusions of misconduct, speculation to motive is unnecessary.”

The letter lists three “false assertions” made by the Issa and Grassley:

1. ATF purposely failed to confront straw purchasers and interdict guns. Disrupting and deterring the illegal activity took a backseat to the lawful goal of dismantling the entire organization.

2. Intercepts from the DEA wiretap provided the probable cause necessary for ATF to make arrests as early as December 2009, or, at the very least, supplied the necessary predicate to use other investigative techniques to disrupt illegal activity and seize the weapons. ... ATF, however, did not act on this information. Agents could have arrested Celis-Acosta in December of 2009 and used the arrest to work their way up the ladder to the two cartel associates.

3. ATF insisted that the techniques used in Operation Fast and Furious were necessary to take down a complicated gun trafficking operation. In reality, however, the network was not complex.

The letter also refers to Issa and Grassley’s reference to gunwalking as a tactic used by ATF as erroneous and an “attempt to cast wide blame on the ATF supervisors and agents as well as the attorneys in the Department of Justice.” Pelletier says his client Newell advised on multiple occasions and under oath that no such tactics were contemplated or existed in the Fast and Furious investigation. But even putting both Issa and Grassley’s findings aside and simply based on whistleblower testimony, the claims of “false assertions” by Pelletier on behalf of his client Bill Newell are false.

(For evidence against Pelletier's point 2, click here. For evidence against Pelletier's point 3, click here. 70 percent of Fast and Furious guns were bought by just 5 straw purchasers.)

“What I found concerning and alarming was more times than not, no law enforcement activity was planned to stop these suspected straw purchasers from purchasing firearms. The only law enforcement activity that was occasionally taken was to conduct a surveillance of the transaction, and nothing more,” ATF Special Agent and whistleblower Orlindo Casa said under oath on June 14, 2011 before the House Oversight Committee. “On several occasions I personally requested to interdict or seize firearms in such a manner that would only further the investigation, but I was always order to stand down and not to seize the firearms.”

In other words, Casa was told to allow the guns to walk.

Another whistleblower, ATF Special Agent John Dodson, had similar statements during the same committee hearing.

“This was not a matter of some weapons getting away from us, or allowing a few to walk so as to follow them to a much larger or more significant target. Allowing loads of weapons that we knew to be destined for criminals -- this was the plan. It was so mandated,” Dodson said. “The numerous guns we let walk have yet to be recovered.”

Not once did Pelletier mention the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry as a result of this program, or the fact that at least two guns that were allowed to walk showed up at the crime scene. Pelletier also failed to mention Americans are now at risk thanks to the actions of the Obama Justice Department, in partnership with ATF, allowing thousands of weapons to be trafficked into the hands of ruthless criminals. Even Eric Holder admits we will see tragic consequences from these actions for years to come. In short, the letter tries to make one staunch point: Bill Newell, as Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division, did not instruct agents to allow guns to walk and gunwalking tactics were not used in Operation Fast and Furious.

The letter also takes a jab at the nation’s gun laws while giving Newell credit for trying to stop gun trafficking rather than facilitating it through Fast and Furious.

“We need more, not less, public servants like Special Agent Newell and the men and women who, despite the challenges imposed by our nation’s gun laws and the legal system in which they operated, strove to make a difference and tried their level best to put an end to the illegal gun trafficking the plagues the Southwest Border,” Pelletier wrote. Pelletier, who has been described as "left-wing and liberal as Ted Kennedy," also took the opportunity to add that he believes the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious is politically motivated.

In another letter obtained by Townhall addressed to Issa and Grassley from David Voth’s attorney Joshua A. Levy, Issa is accused of mischaracterizing statements and authored documents by Voth in a June 14, 2011 Congressional Report. The letter accuses Special Agents Dodson, Casa and Larry Alt of not complaining about "Operation Fast and Furious' underlying strategy or tactic" during its implementation and attempts to further smear their characters. This letter, like the one from Newell’s attorney, denies gunwalking as a tactic: "In Operation Fast & Furious, the ATF Group VII agents did not walk guns, they did not avoid the interdiction of firearms when they lawfully could have seized them," the letter proclaims. "The ATF did not purposefully fail to interdict firearms."

Once again, whistleblower testimony proves otherwise. From the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on June 14, 2011:

"Although my instincts made me want to intervene and interdict these weapons, my supervisors directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or arrest, but rather, top keep the straw purchaser under surveillance while allowing the guns to walk." –John Dodson

"Suspected straw purchasers were identified, again with no obvious attempts to interdict the weapons or interview suspects." –Olindo Casa

"No interdiction efforts were planned." –Peter Forcelli

The letter from Levy blames Issa and Grassley for causing damage to Voth and for weakening "the criminal justice system’s attempt to help protect innocent Americans and Mexicans from the drug cartel's conspiracy to purchase, deliver, and use some of the deadliest firearms to protect their dope."

So, who should we believe? Corrupt ATF managers who have denied gunwalking since day one of the Fast and Furious investigation, or brave whistleblowers who have put their personal lives and careers on the line to get the truth to the American people?

Keep in mind: 1,400 Fast and Furious guns are still missing; after more than a year of investigation, the DOJ has still failed to turn over 74,000 requested documents to the House Oversight Committee.

You can read each of the letters here and here

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