"A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust."
That's the subtitle of an "investigation" from Fortune Magazine today, or in other words, a full out distortion and dismissal of the facts in the Fact and Furious case. The article is long and I'm not going to take the time to debunk the entire thing, but just a few points.
First, the article gives a full defense of corrupt ATF Supervisor David Voth while smearing gun dealers as massive suppliers of drug cartels.
Customers can legally buy as many weapons as they want in Arizona as long as they're 18 or older and pass a criminal background check. There are no waiting periods and no need for permits, and buyers are allowed to resell the guns. "In Arizona," says Voth, "someone buying three guns is like someone buying a sandwich."
By 2009 the Sinaloa drug cartel had made Phoenix its gun supermarket and recruited young Americans as its designated shoppers or straw purchasers. Voth and his agents began investigating a group of buyers, some not even old enough to buy beer, whose members were plunking down as much as $20,000 in cash to purchase up to 20 semiautomatics at a time, and then delivering the weapons to others.
Fact: During Operation Fast and Furious, gun dealers repeatedly emailed Voth, asking whether guns they were selling under orders from ATF, were ending up in the wrong hands. Voth assured them they were not. More than two thousands guns trafficked into Mexico and hundreds of dead victims later, that turned out to be a lie. Gun dealers repeatedly raised concerns about ATF telling them to allow straw purchasers using false ID and loads of cash to buy weapons. In 2010, a gun dealer emailed Voth because a straw purchaser had placed a large order and the dealer wanted to know if he should order more stock. Once again, so he could comply with ATF's order to sell. Voth told him, go right ahead. Order the guns, sell to the bad guys.
On June 17, 2010 a concerned dealer wrote, "As per our discussion about over communicating I wanted to share some concerns that came up. Tuesday night I watched a segment of a Fox News report about firearms and the border. The segment, if the information was correct, is disturbing to me. When you, Emory and I met on May 13th I shared my concerns with you guys that I wanted to make sure that none of the firearms that were sold per our conversation with you and various ATF agents could or would ever end up south of the border or in the hands of the bad guys. I guess I am looking for a bit of reassurance that the guns are not getting south or in wrong hands. I know it is an ongoing investigation so there is limited information you can share with me. But as I said in our meeting, I want to help ATF with its investigation but not at the risk of agents [sic] safety because I have some very close friends that are U.S. Border Patrol agents in southern AZ as well as my concern for all the agents [sic] safety that protect our country. If possible please email me back and share with me any reassurances that you can. As always thank you for your time and I send this email with all respect and a heart felt concern to do the right thing."
Voth sent an email on April 2, 2010 saying, "Our subjects purchased 359 firearms during the month of March alone, to include numerous Barrett .50 caliber rifles," he went on, "I believe we are righteous in our plan to dismantle this entire organization and to rush in to arrest any one person without taking in to account the entire scope of the conspiracy would be ill advices to the overall good of the mission." In another email, Voth mentioned 1200 people killed in March 2010, yet still called the program "righteous."
You can read more about Voth here.
Next, the Fortune article claims officials directly involved in Fast and Furious never intentionally trafficked guns into Mexico and and actually seized guns.
Quite simply, there's a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
The guns sold during Fast and Furious didn't "eventually fall into criminal hands," they were put there intentionally as soon as ATF approved the sale of those guns to guys they knew were straw purchasers before they even walked through the door of the gun dealerships. Not to mention, weapons were never seized until they were found at violent crime scenes; 1400 remain missing.
And of course, according to Fortune, this whole Fast and Furious scandal has been drummed up by...right wing bloggers!
How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today. It's a story that starts with a grudge, specifically Dodson's anger at Voth. After the terrible murder of agent Terry, Dodson made complaints that were then amplified, first by right-wing bloggers, then by CBS. Rep. Issa and other politicians then seized those elements to score points against the Obama administration, which, for its part, has capitulated in an apparent effort to avoid a rhetorical battle over gun control in the run-up to the presidential election. (A Justice Department spokesperson denies this and asserts that the department is not drawing conclusions until the inspector general's report is submitted.)
Right, exposing the horrors of this scandal according to Fortune is simply bloggers, CBS and Issa "amplifying" "complaints" made by ATF Whistleblower John Dodson. More like, telling the truth, Fortune.
Also, Fortune quotes an IRS agent, but why was the IRS involved in Operation Fast and Furious? Because the IRS in partnership with ATF was giving gun dealers participating in the program advice about how to do their taxes with such a large inflow of cash.
And of course, the Fortune article mocks Arizona for being a pro-Second Amendment state while implying the reason for cartel violence in Mexico is because of limited gun control laws in the state when it was ATF who was deliberately trafficking weapons directly to the cartels in Mexico, doing nothing about it. This is simply an attempt to put a sliver of reasonable doubt into the minds of potential jurors should supervisors like Voth face criminal prosecution down the road.
The rest of my rebuttal to Fortune can be completed by reading my book.
Becca Watkins, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform spokeswoman, has issued the following statement:
“Fortune’s story is a fantasy made up almost entirely from the accounts of individuals involved in the reckless tactics that took place in Operation Fast and Furious. It contains factual errors – including the false statement that Chairman Issa has called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation – and multiple distortions. It also hides critical information from readers – including a report in the Wall Street Journal – indicating that its primary sources may be facing criminal charges. Congressional staff gave Fortune Magazine numerous examples of false statements made by the story’s primary source and the magazine did not dispute this information. It did not, however, explain this material to its readers. The one point of agreement the Committee has with this story is its emphasis on the role Justice Department prosecutors, not just ATF agents, played in guns being transferred to drug cartels in Mexico. The allegations made in the story have been examined and rejected by congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the Justice Department.”