My story today on Operation Fast and Furious is print-only, so you'll have to pick up a copy of the paper to read it. Or wait till Tuesday afternoon, when it will be available at azstarnet.com.
In the meantime, suffice it to say that some of the story analyzed statements that Sheriff Paul Babeu has been making about Operation Fast and Furious. I asked the sheriff some questions about Fast and Furious via email. Here are the questions and answers.
Q: When you says that those officials who carried out Fast & Furious should be considered accomplices or accessories to murder, are you serious, or is that a rhetorical point, that they could be charged? If serious, who in the ATF/DOJ chain of command should be investigated as possible accomplices or accessories to murder and other crimes? The line agents? Their supervisors? The U.S. Attorney's Office or Justice Department officials involved?
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A: The American people deserve a thorough, impartial, and independent review of what happened here. Nothing short of that will ever be acceptable. The Justice Department has a serious conflict of interest in policing itself. So no more scapegoats--let's find out just how this happened, exactly who is responsible, and hold them accountable.
This is why the Sheriffs of Arizona both Republicans and Democrats are demanding a Special Counsel to investigate Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice for their roles in Operation Fast and Furious.
The Sheriffs are demanding the truth from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and believe that those responsible should be held criminally accountable for allowing 2,000 guns including assault weapons and 50 caliber rifles to be purchased on U.S. Soil and then turned over to the drug cartels of Mexico. As a result of their reckless facilitation and distribution of these weapons, our deputies and American citizens may now face the barrel of a gun that was placed in the hands of criminals by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Citizens of the United States and Mexico have already been murdered by cartel members who now posses these weapons. There is no doubt more bloodshed will occur on both sides of the border, since over 1,500 weapons still remain unaccounted for.
Q: What, if anything, could you and your office do to pursue an investigation (and possible criminal charges) against those who carried out Operation Fast & Furious? Are you considering doing that, or already doing it? Would you do it if a criminal suspect were caught with a F & F weapon in Pinal County?
A: At this time we are assisting the Congressional Committee investigating this matter by providing information records regarding weapons we have seized to see if any of them are linked to Fast and Furious. As stated above we agree with the other Sheriffs’ of Arizona that a Special Counsel should be appointed to investigate this matter.
Weapons from Fast and Furious have already been recovered during one of our drug smuggling investigations.
Q: You have said repeatedly that you think Operation Fast and Furious was designed to lead to gun-control measures. What evidence of this have you seen? How can I find it?
A: This administration has repeatedly stated in the media that “90% of the weapons used to commit crimes in Mexico come from the United States.” They have used this argument in their support of tougher gun control measures. If you google search the quoted information, you will see numerous stories about it. Here is one such story link regarding the quote:
At the same time they are stating this, our own Federal government was using taxpayer money from the stimulus to purchase automatic weapons and sell them directly to the most dangerous criminals in North America.
The firearm dealers in these cases flagged the purchases and reported them to the Federal government, who then ordered them to make the sale anyway.
Q: You have repeatedly said Operation Fast and Furious is worse than Watergate. In what ways are Fast and Furious and Watergate similar?
A: If you knew that a foreign power had caused over 2,000 guns to arrive in the hands of America's most dangerous criminals, what would you say? What if those weapons had been used to commit more than 200 murders?
Now consider that the Federal government did just that--and to an ally. Nobody died because of Watergate and no treaties were violated. People on both sides of the border will be dealing with the deadly fallout for years to come. But before this is over, we'll know exactly what Barack Obama knew--and when he knew it.
Q: Why are you spending so much time talking about Operation Fast and Furious around the country?
A: This is not a partisan issue, but a serious public safety issue that threatens the safety of our citizens and members of law enforcement.
Our own federal government has armed the very cartels that our law enforcement are fighting with on a daily basis.
Fast and Furious quickly proved to be a catastrophe, but the public didn't learn about it until Agent Brian Terry was murdered on American soil. Since then, whistleblowers have been punished, those responsible have been promoted, scapegoats have been offered, and inconsistent testimony provided to Congress. This is a textbook attempt at obstruction by the Federal government.
The family of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry reached out to me after his murder. I have promised them, that I will continue to demand justice for his brother’s murder.
Q: Why did three of the four border sheriffs in Arizona, those whose officers are perhaps most likely to face Fast and Furious weapons, not join your call for a special investigator?
A: You obviously were not at the Press Conference in Phoenix where I conveyed the messages of support from Sheriff Dupnik of Pima County and Sheriff Estrada of Santa Cruz County. Sheriff Dever of Cochise County was present at the press conference.
Q: In your many talks and interviews about Operation Fast and Furious, you have often combined fundraising activities with discussing Fast and Furious. For example, last week's fundraiser by Hugh Hewitt in Paradise Valley was advertised as including your update on Fast and Furious. Also, a previous interview with Hewitt included numerous references to the sheriffpaul.com website. And your Drudge Report ad linked to a page where contributions could be made. Why the frequent combination of talking about Fast & Furious and doing campaign fundraising?
A: What occurred regarding Fast and Furious has outraged nearly everyone in America. Not a day goes by where I am not asked about my knowledge of it and what I feel should be done. As an elected official, citizens are my bosses and I will continue to answer their demands for accountability and justice regarding this botched operation which has put dangerous weapons directly into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. The President of Mexico has declared war on the very cartels our U.S. government armed with weapons. Over 42,000 people have already died in Mexico as a result of cartel violence. Citizens of the U.S. have also died as a result of these weapons being placed in the hands of the most dangerous criminals law enforcement faces.
Q: You have made repeated references, along with your Fast & Furious comments, to your anger about the president for apologizing for America. What are you referring to?
A: President Obama has apologized numerous times to other countries and groups for what he has deemed as mistakes made by the United States.
The United States is by far the most generous nation in the world. In my opinion and that of most Americans, we don’t owe any other nation an apology until now. President Obama should be apologizing now to Mexico for arming the very cartels the President of Mexico has declared war against. Mexico and their citizens are not our enemies they are our ally. The drug cartels who are trying to take over the Mexican Government are our enemy and now they have been armed with over 2,000 additional weapons to fight with.
Q: You've given a few estimates of casualties from Fast & Furious weapons. At the Oct. 8 press conference, you referred to 142 crime scenes. Elias Johnson referred in an online interview to 300 casualties derived from Fast & Furious. What are you and your employees referring to when you give these casualty figures? Deaths only, or injuries too? Cases in which the Fast & Furious weapons were found at the scene, or cases in which F & F weapons are known to have been used to shoot somebody?
A: Originally the number of crime scenes reported through the media in which weapons from Fast and Furious were found at crime scene was 142. Recently Senator Grassley has said according to ATF the number is now 179.
On September 20th, 2011 the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, reported to media that the Attorney General in Mexico has said at least 200 murders south of the border happened as a result of Operation Fast and Furious. Eleven crimes in the United States have been linked to Operation Fast and Furious up to this point. Issa said he expects as the investigation in the operation continues, more crimes connected to Fast and Furious will come to light and be exposed.
I have not spoken to Elias about what he was most likely referring to could be when Congressman Humberto Benitez Trevino, of Mexico who heads the justice committee, said the number of people killed or wounded by the weapons had probably doubled to 300.
Q: Where do you draw the line between your Fast & Furious events being political ones versus official PCSO ones? Elias Johnson told me that your office hadn't videotaped the Tucson Tea Party event because it's a political event, but it seems some of your Fast and Furious events are official. Again, how do you draw that line?
A: The September 26th “Townhall” meeting was not a political event but rather an event I attended in my official capacity as the Sheriff of Pinal County. I was asked to talk to over 400 citizens who attended the meeting about Operation Fast and Furious. I presented along with Congressman Gosar, who sits on the Congressional Oversight Committee and Special Agent Vince Cefalu who was the ATF whistleblower regarding Operation Fast and Furious.
Most presentations I make whether they are political or official I do not coordinate any type of videotaping for.
FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
Q: You said "weapons from Fast and Furious have already been recovered during one of our drug smuggling investigations." Was this the Angel Hernandez-Diaz case from March 2010, where he rammed DPS officers? If not, could you point me to the case?
A: No I am not referencing that case. The case I am referring to is still part of an ongoing investigation. Once the investigation is completed, the specifics of the case can be released.
Q: You didn't really address my question about your fundraising and Fast and Furious. How can you say this is not a political or partisan issue when you seem to be raising money off it for your own political campaign?
A: Once again this is a public safety issues. Operation Fast and Furious has outraged nearly everyone in America. Not a day goes by where I am not asked about my knowledge of it and what I feel should be done. As an elected official, citizens are my bosses and I will continue to answer their demands for accountability and justice regarding this botched operation which has put dangerous weapons directly into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. The President of Mexico has declared war on the very cartels our U.S. government armed with weapons. Over 42,000 people have already died in Mexico as a result of cartel violence. Citizens of the U.S. have also died as a result of these weapons being placed in the hands of the most dangerous criminals law enforcement faces.
Q: What evidence do you have that "taxpayer money from the stimulus" was used "to purchase automatic weapons and sell them" to criminals? I've seen reports that said stimulus money went to Fast and Furious, but so far the best information I've been able to see says that stimulus money went to Project Gunrunner but not to this particular investigation, Fast and Furious. Please clarify.
A: It has been reported through various media entities that stimulus funds were used to fund the operation. It was even written in the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery act (aka: Stimulus package) where it states, “$10,000,000 shall be transferred to ‘Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Salaries and Expenses’ for the ATF Project Gunrunner.”
Project Gunrunner received "directly allocated" stimulus funds. It is our understanding that Operation Fast and Furious was tucked under Project Gunrunner, essentially using the same funding.
There is also a letter from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Senator Grassley sent to Attorney General Eric holder stating, “The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department (DOJ) not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons, but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities.”
Issa has also done several interviews where he has stated, “U.S. dollars were used in at least some part to buy weapons.” Below is a link to a Fox News Story on the topic as well. As you will read, ATF Agent John Dodson was ordered to buy weapons and later sell them to known illegal buyers.
If you still have questions, I would recommend you contact Representative Issa or Senator Grassley.
Q: Since you announced your exploratory committee, I should ask if you expect discussion of Fast and Furious to be an important part of your exploratory campaign or a future congressional campaign?
A: I have always preached transparency in government. Issues which affect our Country need to be discussed and resolved openly not behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. Citizens who elect me are my bosses and they are demanding answers regarding what occurred during this botched operation. I will continue to demand answers not only for them but also to seek justice for the family of Agent Brian Terry who was murdered with weapons supplied to the Mexican drug cartels by our own Federal Government.