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7 31 12 Ff Part i Final Report

7 31 12 Ff Part i Final Report

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Published by: Daniel Hopsicker on Sep 04, 2012
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09/14/2014

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Newell apparently began to believe that the new political leadership in the Justice
Department in 2009 might welcome the use of the previously eschewed investigative tactics.
Two early efforts by the new Department leadership sent such signals. One was that Assistant
Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the Criminal Division at Justice Department
headquarters, assigned a prosecutor to Arizona to resurrect and prosecute the Wide Receiver case
despite its use of gunwalking tactics. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had not previously prosecuted
Wide Receiver because ATF had not been forthcoming about the use of these controversial

tactics. As one individual in ATF’s Phoenix Field Division summarized on August 3, 2009,
when proposing that the Criminal Division consider the case, the “AUSA was . . . pushing back
w/ moral dilemma w/ the G[overnment] allowing the targets to traffic 300+ firearms to

Mexico.”480

Breuer’s Criminal Division found no problems with prosecuting the case and

formally accepted it at the end of September 2009.481

It may have appeared to Newell that

gunwalking tactics were no longer a bar from prosecution.

479

Newell Transcript at 103-104 (Exhibit 140).

480

E-mail from James Small to George Gillett (Aug. 3, 2009) [HOGR 005432] (Exhibit 10).

481

E-mail from George Gillett to William Newell (Sep. 26, 2009) [HOGR 005441]; e-mail from Kevin Carwile to
William Newell (Sep. 30, 2009) [HOGR 003389] (Exhibit 13).

147

The next signal from Department leadership that the tactics might be welcomed came in
the form of the Department’s fall 2009 draft “Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels.”482
Distributed throughout the Department and ATF, the strategy aimed to shift focus to building
large, complex cases against organizations rather than prosecuting straw purchasers.

The new Justice Department strategy encouraged the use of “prosecutor-led, multi-
agency task forces, specifically using the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces

(OCDETF) Program.”483

The strategy noted that “OCDETF has established actual, brick-and-
mortar Co-Located Strike Forces, for the pursuit of the highest level traffickers of drugs, guns,

and money.”484

Phoenix, Arizona was one of the locations where a Strike Force was established.
The strategy noted in several places that the task force model should be “prosecutor-led,”
indicating the need to have the local U.S. Attorney’s Office on board.

The strategy also stated:

[M]erely seizing firearms through interdiction will not stop
firearms trafficking to Mexico
. We must identify, investigate,
and eliminate the sources of illegally trafficked firearms and the
networks that transport them.485

Newell and his agents in Phoenix may have viewed this statement as the green light they had
been waiting for. Arresting straw purchasers was not enough to stop the flow of weapons to
Mexico, and new strategies were needed. To develop a bigger case under this new strategy, ATF
leadership in Phoenix believed that agents could watch the straw purchasers, not interdict, and
gather intelligence for long periods of time in order to work their way up the hierarchy of a straw
purchasing organization. This was the essence of Fast and Furious.

The Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Phoenix, George Gillett, testified that he
believed the Justice Department’s draft strategy provided the direction for Fast and Furious:

Q.

Was it your understanding that at that time DOJ was looking to
ATF to focus on cartels and more of an organized crime level
rather than straw purchasers?

A.

Yes, sir. The content of that plan specifically addressed
wanting ATF not to focus on straw purchasers, but to focus on
cartels and larger complex conspiracy type investigations
.

482

Draft Department of Justice Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels (Oct. 22, 2009) [HOGR 001451-

001459] (Exhibit 2).

483

Id.

484

Id.

485

Id. (emphasis added).

148

Q. How did that initiative trickle down to the agents in the Phoenix
field office?

A.

Well, to kind of paint the picture, there was the IG reports that
addressed the ineffective nature of straw purchasers. The drug
enforcement for the office here in Phoenix was looking to stand up
an organized crime drug enforcement task force strike force,
OCDETF. And the special agent in charge of the DEA office was
asking for ATF's participation in this joint multi-agency strike
force. ATF here was not able to get any straw purchase
prosecutions at the time because of an interpretation of the law by
the U.S. Attorney's Office here in the District of Arizona. So this
strategy in October 2009 handed down by the DAG's office,
actually from the Phoenix perspective, was well timed and
provided us with direction on how to proceed in these types of
firearms trafficking investigations.
486

Newell agreed with Gillett’s comments. Newell testified:

Q.

The Department level strategy was communicated to you and you
had to implement it.

A.

Right.

Q.

And was there any guidance as to specifically how down at the
agent level?

A.

It was -- we received instruction, but we wanted to focus on
firearms trafficking networks, organizations as per the
strategy that the Department had pushed out
, yes.

Q.

And was there a goal to not merely focus on straw buyers?

A.

The goal was to go after the infrastructure, the organizations
themselves; and straw buyers are considered the low rung and one
part of a larger organization, yes.487

The new cartel-focused strategy promulgated by the Department of Justice provided
Newell justification to go forward with another gunwalking operation—the fourth during his
tenure as SAC. This one would be bigger and riskier. One week after Justice Department
headquarters announced the new strategy, Fast and Furious began. According to Newell, Fast
and Furious aimed to reach the highest levels of a gun trafficking operation. He stated:

486

Gillett Transcript at 12-13 (emphasis added) (Exhibit 4).

487

Newell Transcript at 11 (emphasis added) (Exhibit 140).

149

The goal of the investigation . . . is using the straw purchasers,
identifying the straw purchasers, to get, using information we gleaned
from them in a sense of where they're going
, where they're dropping the
guns off, to identify the middlemen, to identify the decision makers and
seize assets when appropriate, and we have the ability to do that, identify
bank accounts, identify transporters, identify anything so that when we
make the arrests, do the takedown, that we take down the whole
organization.488

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