Tuesday’s startling revelation by a central figure in the Operation Fast & Furious investigation that he communicated with a longtime friend in the White House about the gun trafficking sting has opened up a new segment of the Congressional probe, bringing an administration denial that the contact had anything to do with the botched operation.
This bombshell came thanks to questions from a Northwest congressman on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The entire hearing is available on video in three segments, accessible here, on the committee’s website. This column discussed Newell’s appearance yesterday.
The revelation first came during questioning of former Phoenix Special Agent in Charge William Newell by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), and was picked up by South Carolina’s Trey Gowdy, a former district attorney. It involved Newell’s recently-discovered e-mail to Dr. Kevin O’Reilly, director of North American Affairs on the National Security Council. That, say critics of the botched gunrunning sting, “puts this investigation into the White House.” You be the judge after watching the videos.
The exchange, quoted by CBS News went like this:
Congressional investigators obtained an email from Newell to O’Reilly in September of last year in which Newell began with the words: “you didn’t get this from me.”
“What does that mean,” one member of Congress asked Newell, ” ‘you didn’t get this from me?’ “
“Obviously he was a friend of mine,” Newell replied, “and I shouldn’t have been sending that to him.”
Newell told Congress that O’Reilly had asked him for information.
“Why do you think he asked for that information,” Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) asked Newell.
“He 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.”
This exchange was between Labrador and Newell. At one point, Newell said he did not specifically discuss the specifics of the case with O’Reilly. But Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) quickly jumped in and asked Newell to stop using the term “specific” in his remarks.
This was not the only time that Issa pressed Newell ton that point. That term might be considered as a semantics tool to cover one’s self from subsequent scrutiny should it be revealed that a subject came up during a “general conversation” (i.e. “We never specifically talked about that.”)
Watching Newell’s body language throughout the hearing, one sees he consistently lowers his head, looks down at the table and not consistently at members of the committee.
Compare that to the body language of Carlos Canino, acting ATF attaché to Mexico, who at one point refuted Newell’s assertion that he knew about guns flowing south as part of Fast and Furious.
People may zero in on Newell’s remark to Gowdy that, “I shouldn’t have been sending him that…” But he did, anyway, and subsequently insisted “it wasn’t an improper communication.” Well, was it or wasn’t it?
Labrador’s exchange with Canino was immediately preceded by another interesting exchange that appears to show a definite conflict in testimony between Newell and Canino. Under questioning by Gowdy, Newell asserted that Canino knew about the guns flowing into Mexico, which can be seen at the end of this segment of the committee video, at 2:49:12, at which point Gowdy asks Newell:
“Were you, at some point, going to let Special Agent Canino know about it?
Newell’s response: “Mister Canino knew about the investigation.”
However, after Gowdy was finished with his questioning, Labrador was next up on the committee, and he turned his attention to Canino. This segment is right at the beginning of Part 2 of the YouTube video. Here’s how that went:
Q. “Special Agent Canino. I believe I just heard Special Agent Newell say that you knew about this gun walking…”
A. “Yes, sir, I want to make it perfectly clear to you, the American people, the Mexican government, my family, my friends; at no time ever did I know that ATF agents were following known (or) suspected gun traffickers…Never, ever…would I imagine…that we were letting that happen.”
A moment later, Labrador was questioning Newell about his e-mail to O’Reilly. As noted earlier: You be the judge.
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