ABC’s Jordyn Phelps reports:
The White House has released new documents in the ongoing Congressional investigation of the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” scandal that show extensive communication between a White House National Security staffer and an ATF agent who helped lead the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation.
The documents, released late Friday, show e-mail communication between former National Security staffer Kevin O’Reilly and ATF special agent William Newell in which the two extensively discuss the progress of the Phoenix ATF office in curbing weapons trafficking.
The direct lines of communication between the White House and the ATF Phoenix field office revealed by the e-mails is of interest to the ongoing congressional investigation in which one of the key questions has been establishing whether high-ranking administration officials were aware of the program.
The Obama administration has maintained a position throughout the investigation that high-level officials in the White House and Justice Department were not involved with the program.
“The notion that somehow or other that this thing reaches into the upper level of the Justice Department is something that at this point I don’t think is supported by the facts,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a September 7 press conference. “And I think as we examine and as all the facts are in fact revealed, we’ll see that that is not the case.”
While O’Reilly and Newell’s seemingly close relationship raises questions about whether individuals within the White House had knowledge of the program, there is no discussion in the released e-mails of the ATF’s controversial weapons tracking program that allowed suspected traffickers linked to Mexican drug cartels to purchase weapons and “walk” the weapons across the border. The e-mails also imply that O’Reilly and Newell may have also communicated by phone.
The ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation allowed suspected traffickers to purchase US guns so that the ATF could track the weapons to the cartels as opposed to arresting the low-level weapons buyers. It has been alleged that thousands of weapons were allowed to pass into the hands of suspected traffickers under this program. At least two weapons traced to the program were found on the murder scene of a border patrol agent in December 2010. Additional crimes have also been connected with weapons linked to ATF.
Newell testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Regulation in July, making the case that the “Fast and Furious” operation was initiated with the intention of curtailing gun trafficking but admitted it was not executed properly.
“I recognize that in retrospect there were mistakes in how we handled the investigation,” Newell said of the gun walking program in July. In a written statement further clarifying his July testimony, Newell goes on to say “those searching for the secret or hidden ‘high level’ authorization to ‘permit guns to flow south’…will ultimately remain unsatisfied.”