Human Events Blog

No, Operation Wide Receiver Does Not Excuse Obama Or Holder

 

After a long period of resolutely ignoring Operation Fast and Furious, the bulk of the mainstream media has been dragged into covering the “gun walking” scandal by the charges of perjury directed at Attorney General Eric Holder.  Flailing around for something they can spin, liberals have suddenly become very interested in Operation Wide Receiver, a gun walking program from the Bush era.  Longtime observers of the Obama scandal have long been camped out on Operation Wide Receiver’s front porch with a bowl of Halloween candy, knowing it was only a matter of time before the Left showed up.

The L.A. Times, which has provided excellent coverage of the rapidly evolving Fast and Furious scandal, is curiously negligent in explaining Wide Receiver to its readers:

The Times reported from Washington on Monday that the Bush administration managed a program similar to Fast and Furious in 2006-07. Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.

In that program, dubbed Wide Receiver, weapons were allowed into Mexico, just as later occurred in Operation Fast and Furious in 2009 and 2010, The Times reported. About 2,000 weapons were “walked” in Mexico and later showed up at scores of crime scenes, Mexican officials have said. 

The Monday report from the L.A. Times didn’t really say anything about Wide Receiver at all, beyond mentioning its name:

In the emails that the department turned over to congressional investigators, Justice Department officials last October discussed both the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking surveillance operation in Phoenix and a separate investigation from 2006 and 2007 called Operation Wide Receiver. In Wide Receiver, which took place in Tucson, firearms also were acquired by illegal straw purchasers and lost in Mexico, the emails say.

The Associated Press made a much more explicit attempt to claim Wide Receiver was essentially identical to Fast and Furious, meaning the Bush Administration was walking guns just like Obama:

The federal government under the Bush administration ran an operation that allowed hundreds of guns to be transferred to suspected arms traffickers — the same tactic that congressional Republicans have criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for using, two federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other Republicans have been hammering the Obama Justice Department over the practice known as “letting guns walk.” The congressional target has been Operation Fast and Furious, which was designed to track small-time gun buyers at several Phoenix-area gun shops up the chain to make cases against major weapons traffickers. In the process, federal agents lost track of many of the more than 2,000 guns linked to the operation.

When Bush, a Republican, was president, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Tucson, Ariz., used a similar enforcement tactic in a program it called Operation Wide Receiver. The fact that there were two such ATF investigations years apart in separate administrations raises the possibility that agents in still other cases may have allowed guns to “walk.”

The Washington Post packs its spin right into the headline: “Earlier ATF Gun Operation ‘Wide Receiver’ Used Same Tactics As ‘Fast and Furious.’”

Operation Wide Receiver came to light when Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) released new documents and e-mails this week which they said showed that although Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told Congress in May that he had just learned about Fast and Furious, he had known for about 10 months.

That alleged discrepancy led some Republican lawmakers to accuse Holder of perjury. They have pounded on Holder over Fast and Furious, in some cases calling for his resignation.Their investigation of the program has led to the reassignment of the former ATF director and others, and the resignation of the U.S. attorney in Arizona.

But Wide Receiver, conducted in the Bush administration, has not received a lot of attention. According to Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, some of the e-mails used in the attempt to discredit Holder were referring to the Tucson case, Wide Receiver.

More specifically, Schmaler said that when the e-mails mention “guns walking,” they are referring to the 2006-07 Tucson case, Operation Wide Receiver. Schmaler said neither of the officials knew about guns walking in the Fast and Furious case.

(Emphasis mine.)  Of course, “some” emails referring to Wide Receiver has absolutely no logical bearing on other emails referring specifically to Fast and Furious.  I’m sure the next Republican Attorney General can count on the same kind of helpful spin and misdirection from the Washington Post.

Courtesy of Jim Shepherd at The Outdoor Wire, with a hat tip to Bob Owens at Pajamas Media, here are a few things the media is curiously forgetting to tell audiences about Operation Wide Receiver, which ran during the Bush years of 2006 and 2007 – and was indeed a bad idea, but not a monstrous horror like the Obama gun walking programs:

1. Wide Receiver was less than one-quarter the size of Fast and Furious, involving about 500 guns.  About 450 guns made it across the border into Mexico.  Not only was Fast and Furious much larger, but it was only one of several gun walking operations launched by the Obama Administration.  In fact, intrepid CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson says she has “found allegations of gun walking in at least 10 cities in five states.”

2. Unlike the Obama Administration programs, there actually was a serious attempt made to track the Wide Receiver weapons.  Some of them were fitted with radio tracking devices.  The cartel gun buyers figured out how to defeat the tracking system by driving around in circles, until the tracking planes ran out of fuel and were forced to return to base.  Also, some of the tracking devices were damaged when ATF agents improperly inserted them into the guns. 

By contrast, one of the signature features of Obama gun walking is that absolutely no effort to track the guns was ever in place.  ATF agents have testified they were expressly ordered to stand down when they tried to follow the cartel straw purchasers.  Whatever mistakes were made in Operation Wide Receiver, there’s no way to argue that Operation Fast and Furious was not much worse… because they should have learned from what happened in Wide Receiver.

3. And by “they” I mean “Special Agent In Charge Bill Newell.”  That’s right – the same Phoenix ATF supervisor who became famous during the investigation of Fast and Furious was involved with Operation Wide Receiver.  He’s also the ATF agent that originally told Congress that he mentioned gun walking in a roundabout way to his old buddy Kevin O’Reilly of the White House national security staff, who he communicates with maybe three or four times a year… only to be exposed as a liar when the same document dump that put AG Holder in jeopardy of perjury charges revealed a constant stream of emails between Newell and O’Reilly, lasting over a month.  

4. Operation Wide Receiver was, by all accounts, shut down after its weapons dropped off the grid, and the ATF realized it had blundered.  Operation Fast and Furious was only shut down because two of its weapons were discovered at the scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder.  According to congressional testimony, the Terry shooting – along with the mistaken suspicion that Tucson mass murderer Jared Loughner might have been packing a Fast and Furious gun – panicked top ATF brass into halting its gun walking operations.

5. The Obama Justice Department cobbled together significant inter-agency co-operation for its huge gun walking programs.  As Kurt Hofmann of the Gun Rights Examiner notes, “At this point, we don’t seem to have any evidence that earlier ‘gunwalking’ involved the FBI, the DEA, DHS, the State Department, the IRS, and even the White House Security Council.”

6. And, of course, there was no massive cover-up of Wide Receiver.  No senior Administration officials committed perjury to distance themselves from it.  The ATF was not exactly advertising the existence of the operation, or its unhappy conclusion, but that’s very different from the thick stone wall Obama and his people tried to build around their far larger and deadlier operations.

In fact, a confidential informant named Mike Detty, who participated in Wide Receiver as a gun dealer, specifically told David Codrea of the Gun Rights Examiner that the Bush Administration was not involved in the earlier gun walking program:

The AP story said that under Bush this case was never prosecuted and it took the Obama administration to find this Bush debacle and prosecute.

The truth is that the first two AUSA’s assigned to this case declined to prosecute it because ATF, ASAC, SAC and above, lied to him and told him that the guns were being followed on the other side of the border. One AUSA told me, “Why would I take this case to court when I’d have to sacrifice my integrity and professional credibility because ATF screwed up so badly?”

There you have it. It had nothing to do with Bush or even DOJ at that point. ATF decision makers made the decision to devote 3 years worth of resources on a case based on a lie.

(Emphasis mine.)  In summary, Operation Wide Receiver was a small-scale botched sting operation, in which a foolish, but faintly plausible, plan to track straw gun buyers to their criminal customers went terribly wrong.  The Obama Administration used this disaster as a template, radically increased its scale, and turned it into something else altogether. 

Far from letting the Obama Administration “off the hook” because “Bush did it too,” an understanding of the full Operation Wide Receiver story makes the Obama scandal worse.

 

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