At a lengthy hearing on ATF’s controversial gunwalking operation today, a key ATF manager told Congress he discussed the case with a White House National Security staffer as early as September 2010. The communications were between ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix office, Bill Newell, and White House National Security Director for North America Kevin O’Reilly. Newell said the two are longtime friends. The content of what Newell shared with O’Reilly is unclear and wasn’t fully explored at the hearing.
It’s the first time anyone has publicly stated that a White House official had any familiarity with ATF’s operation Fast and Furious, which allowed thousands of weapons to fall into the hands of suspected traffickers for Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to gain intelligence. It’s unknown as to whether O’Reilly shared information with anybody else at the White House.
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.
Now, however, the White House is blocking access to O’Reilly, hiding him behind claims of “executive privilege:”
White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler sent a letter Thursday to Republican lawmakers Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, refusing their request to speak with Kevin O’Reilly, a former National Security staff member whose emails place him in the middle of the unfolding scandal. Issa and Grassley had written to Ruemmler on March 28, asking the White House to step aside and let O’Reilly talk to investigators.
Grassley is the GOP ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Issa chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose members include Chaffetz.
“[O’Reilly’s] personal attorney indicated that he’s more than willing to talk to the committee, on the record, under oath”” [Rep. Jake] Chaffetz told Kelly during her Friday afternoon broadcast. “It is only the White House and the White House Counsel that is saying they will not make him available.”
Ruemmler also cited executive privilege and confidentiality as reasons for denying the lawmakers’ request.
Anyone who remembers the Nixon administration is probably having flashbacks right now at the mention of executive privilege. Not that it doesn’t have its place –it’s necessary in order to let aides feel comfortable offering the president their best, most candid advice without fear of a congressional witch-hunt– but it has also been abused to hide embarrassing or even scandalous facts.
The request to speak with O’Reilly resulted from requests and subpoenas demanding all communications between O’Reilly and his friend, Bill Newell. Ruemmler claims the White House has turned over everything it has, while Chaffetz says the emails were never delivered — in spite of the legally binding subpoena.
Hence the desire to speak to Mr. O’Reilly, who is himself willing to talk, if only the Obama White House would let him.
Ask yourself this: If there really is no scandal; if, as Ruemmler claims, the House and Senate investigators have all the documents they need; if O’Reilly has no damaging information to reveal… then why won’t they let him testify? What are they hiding? What are they afraid of?
Executive privilege won’t cut it; we’re not talking about confidential advice offered by a subordinate to the president or a cabinet member. O’Reilly was involved in communications about a program that, probably illegally, provided guns (and other weapons) to vicious criminal gangs in Mexico, arguably an act of war. Over 300 Mexicans and at least one, perhaps two, US federal agents have been killed with these weapons. “Walked” firearms are showing up at crime scenes in the United States. Executive privilege doesn’t cover being an accessory to murder.
Congress has every right under its oversight function to interview O’Reilly to hear what he has to say about Operation Fast and Furious, and the White House should drop its risible claims of privilege. If they don’t, it’s time for contempt proceedings.
The dead and their families are owed no less.
RELATED: Earlier posts on Operation Fast and Furious, aka “Gunwalker.”
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)