Tuesday, June 26, 2012
- Fast Lanny Breuer and the Furious Congress
Now that we have laid out the inside baseball rules of executive privilege, I want to look at what seems to have poked the the Fast and Furious bees nest over at the Committe on Oversight and Government Reform. At the root of the inquiry is a February 4, 2011 United States Department of Justice (DOJ) letter sent to Congress denying whistleblower allegations and that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico."
The Committee recently let the public know that it received wiretap application packages from a secret source. As I see it, the wiretap information shifted the Committee investigation into a higher gear, which led to the Obama administration assertion of executive privilege. So let’s look at what can see to understand who is involved and what the facts are.
I start with Lanny Breuer, who is the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division in the DOJ. He was part of the team that represented Bill Clinton from 1997 to 1999 and is well known for representation of subjects of Congressional investigations, like Sandy "The Pants" Berger. His Criminal Division prosecuted Thomas Andrews Drake, an NSA whistleblower indicted in 2010 under the Espionage Act of 1917.
A couple of threads crossed in September of 2009. At that time, Arizona U.S. Attorney was balking at the prosecution of several targets in the ATF Wide Receiver operation, citing certain objections to operational tactics. At the same time, the DOJ Criminal Division and ATF were in talks about coordination between “gun trafficking and gang-related initiatives.”
Lanny Breuer sent Laura Gwinn to Arizona to assist the U.S. Attorney in the Wide Receiver prosecution. She reported back to the Gang Unit on September 3, 2009 about an operation that involved the sale of 300 to 500 guns. Thereafter, Lanny Breuer asked Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein for a briefing on Operation Wide Receiver in a September 10, 2009 E-mail.
Moving forward to December 2, 2009, Acting ATF Director Ken Melson sought the advice of Lanny Breuer about whether ATF should treat the seizure of multiple guns in Mexico as one case. Breuer responded by email:
We think this is a terrific idea and a great way to approach the investigations of these seizures. Our Gang Unit will be assigning an attorney to help you coordinate this effort.
ATF’s Office of Strategic Information and Intelligence (OSII) alerted senior ATF officials on December 8, 2009 that a large number of Fast and Furious weapons were discovered in Mexico. By December 18, 2009, ATF identified fifteen interconnected straw purchasers that sold about 500 firearms. On January 5, 2010, OSII presented senior ATF officials with a summary of all of the weapons that could be linked to known straw purchasers, who bought 685 guns in under two months.
On the same day, January 5, 2010, Lanny Breuer later met with ATF officials, including Deputy Director Billy Hoover and Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait at the Robert F. Kennedy Building, Room 2107, Jan. 5, 2010, 10:00 AM. Before this time, Hoover had received numerous communications from the ATF Phoenix Field Division about recovery of Fast and Furious weapons in Mexico.
In late January 2010, the ATF Phoenix Field Division applied for Fast and Furious to become an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case. Approval was granted, resulting in new operational funding and making Fast and Furious a U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona led OCDETF Strike Force that joined with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
The DOJ Criminal Division remained in contact with Fast and Furious through wiretap applications. The Criminal Division Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO) holds a primary responsibility to review wiretap authorizations to ensure that they meet statutory requirements and DOJ policies. When OEO completes its review of a wiretap package, as required by statute, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division reviews and authorizes each package. Every package includes an affidavit stating a suficient factual basis that permits the authorization. The Criminal Division authorized Fast and Furious wiretap applications on March 10, 2010, April 15, 2010, May 6, 2010, May 14, 2010, June 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010, which the DOJ will not provide to Congress.
Each approved application package included a memorandum from Lanny Breuer to Paul O’Brien, Director of OEO.
I now bring you the testimony of Lanny Breuer:
So Breuer recognized right away that gun walking in Wide Receiver was a problem, but he made no similar realization with Fast and Furious. He was asked, but really never said why. He claims in other testimony that he just was not aware of tactics employed in Fast and Furious. Nevertheless, he dove on his sword, admitting his mistake.
As a set up for its claim of deliberative process executive privilege, DOJ began its own internal investigation about how to deal with Fast and Furious following the delivery of its February 4, 2011 Congressional letter of denial. Since then, DOJ will not answer questions about anything that was the focus of the internal probe. It turns out that Jason Weinstein, who received the September 10, 2009 email request from Breuer for a briefing on Wide Receiver, was one of the Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals that reviewed Fast & Furious wiretap applications. Weinstein, with approval Breuer does not recall, even helped edit the February 4, 2011 letter.
Who directed that the internal investigation be started? Lanny Breuer. Who did Breuer tap to conduct it? Jason Weinstein.