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One Year Later And More Disturbing Details Show ATF’s Incompetence In Deadly “Fast And Furious

RNC Communications - March 23, 2012

One year ago, President Obama said that Attorney General Eric Holder had “been very clear that he knew nothing” about “Fast and Furious”. But two months later, Holder testified to Congress that he had only learned of “Fast and Furious” in the past few weeks. Holder later backtracked, saying his previous testimony had been “imprecise”.

President Obama Said He Asked Attorney General Eric Holder About “Fast And Furious” In March 2011. “There have been problems, you know. I heard on the news about this story that—Fast and Furious, where allegedly guns were being run into Mexico, and ATF knew about it, but didn't apprehend those who had sent it. Eric Holder has—the attorney general has been very clear that he knew nothing about this. We had assigned an I.G., inspector general, to investigate it.” (“Interview With President Obama,” CNN Espanol, 3/22/11)

On May 3, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder Testified To Congress That He Only Became Aware Of “Fast And Furious” “Over The Last Few Weeks” In Spring 2011. (Sharyl Attkisson, “ATF Fast And Furious: New Documents Show Attorney General Eric Holder Was Briefed In July 2010,” CBS News, 10/03/11)

  • Documents Showed Attorney General Holder Had Received Briefings About “Fast And Furious” Since 2010. “Internal Justice Department memos released last week show that Holder was notified about the existence of the operation as early as last year. Holder testified in May before the House Judiciary Committee that he did not know about the operation until recently. The White House and the DOJ said that Holder was referring to when he was made aware of the controversial and taboo tactics used in the operation.” (Jordy Yager, “Issa: Holder’s Defense On Fast And Furious ‘Has Reached A New Low’,” The Hill, 10/10/11)
  • Attorney General Holder Said Previous Testimony About “Fast And Furious” Was “Inaccurate” And “Imprecise.”  “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told Senate Republicans on Tuesday that the Justice Department provided ‘inaccurate’ information to Congress on the ‘Fast and Furious’ gun-trafficking sting and said that his congressional testimony about when he learned of the controversial operation had been imprecise.” (Jerry Markon, “Holder Grilled On ‘Fast And Furious,’ Admits Mistakes,” The Washington Post, 11/8/11)
  • Asked About When He First Heard Of “Fast And Furious,” Holder Said He Meant “Couple Of Months”, Not “Weeks” As He Previously Testified. “Under gentler questioning from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, Holder also acknowledged the imprecision of his May 3 testimony. At that hearing, he said he ‘probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.’ On Tuesday, Holder amended his recollection, saying that he had actually learned about the program at the beginning of this year. ‘I should probably have said a couple of months,’ said Holder, who defended his overall handling of the controversy as ‘responsible’ and made it clear that he has no plans to resign, as some Republicans have urged.” (Jerry Markon, “Holder Grilled On ‘Fast And Furious,’ Admits Mistakes,” The Washington Post, 11/8/11)

Now, newly released documents about the deadly “Fast and Furious” operation show that the ATF allowed a known gun smuggler to walk away on two separate occasions without making an arrest.

Top “Fast And Furious” Investigators Allowed Their “Main Suspect” Manuel Fabian Celis-Acosta To Walk Away Rather Than Arresting Him. “Seven months after federal agents began the ill-fated Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation, they stumbled upon their main suspect in a remote Arizona outpost on the Mexican border, driving an old BMW with 74 rounds of ammunition and nine cell phones hidden inside. Detained for questioning that day in May 2010, Manuel Fabian Celis-Acosta described to agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives his close association with a top Mexican drug cartel member, according to documents obtained this weekend by the Times/Tribune Washington Bureau. The top Fast and Furious investigator, Special Agent Hope MacAllister, scribbled her phone number on a $10 bill after he pledged to cooperate and keep in touch with investigators. Then Celis-Acosta disappeared into Mexico. He never called.” (Richard Serrano, Gun-Tracking Operation Caught Top Suspect, Then Let Him Go,” Los Angeles Times, 3/19/12)

  • It Is Unclear Why Celis-Acosta Was Not Arrested That Day, And He Continued To Smuggle Weapons Across The Border For Another Year. “Had they arrested him red-handed trying to smuggle ammunition into Mexico, Fast and Furious might have ended quickly. Instead, the program dragged on for another eight months, spiraling out of control. Celis-Acosta continued slipping back and forth across the border, authorities say, illegally purchasing more U.S. weapons and financing others. He was not arrested until February 2011, a month after Fast and Furious closed down…Why ATF agents did not arrest Celis-Acosta immediately is not clear. He was their prime suspect and the subject of secret wiretaps approved by the Justice Department.” (Richard Serrano, Gun-Tracking Operation Caught Top Suspect, Then Let Him Go,” Los Angeles Times, 3/19/12)
  • The Main Suspect From The Start Of “Fast And Furious”, Celis-Acosta Moved Easily Between Mexico And Phoenix. “The documents state that Celis-Acosta led the smuggling ring and that he was paid from drug proceeds to illegally acquire firearms for cartels. He carried a permanent U.S. resident card, a Social Security number and an Arizona driver's license. He moved easily between homes in Mexico and Phoenix. Eventually arrested by U.S. marshals at a relative's home in El Paso, he pleaded not guilty to gun-smuggling charges as one of 19 Fast and Furious defendants. None of the 19 has gone to trial.” (Richard Serrano, Gun-Tracking Operation Caught Top Suspect, Then Let Him Go,” Los Angeles Times, 3/19/12)
  • Celis-Acosta Was Stopped With 74 Rounds Of Ammunition, Cell Phones, And A Ledger Referring To Payments To “Killer” And A List Of Firearms. “According to an ATF "Report of Investigation," prepared by MacAllister, authorized by her supervisor, David J. Voth, and reviewed by William D. Newell, then the ATF special agent in charge in Arizona, U.S. authorities stopped Celis-Acosta as he headed south through the border town of Lukeville, Ariz. The document said an ammunition magazine containing 74 rounds was hidden in a spare tire, and the phones in the dash. In the trunk of the 2002 BMW 754i was a ledger referring to money given to ‘Killer’ and a list of firearms.” (Richard Serrano, Gun-Tracking Operation Caught Top Suspect, Then Let Him Go,” Los Angeles Times, 3/19/12)

Celis-Acosta Was Stopped And Released Two Months Earlier While In Possession Of A Gun Purchased Under The “Fast And Furious” Operation. “Manuel Celis-Acosta, the chief suspect in the ATF’s ‘Fast and Furious’ investigation who was caught but released at the U.S.-Mexico border in May 2010, was also stopped and released two months earlier while in possession of a Colt .38-caliber pistol purchased illegally under the gun-tracking operation. The revelation that officials twice declined to arrest their prime suspect shows that agents were keenly aware of Celis-Acosta’s activities yet repeatedly turned down opportunities to charge him with felony offenses and bring a quick end to the Fast and Furious probe. Instead, the investigation dragged on for months more, with the loss of about 1,700 U.S. firearms on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.” (Richard A. Serrano, “’Fast And Furious’ Probe:  Lead Suspect Released More Than Once,” Los Angeles Times, 3/22/12)

  • ATF Officials Compiled A List Of “Overt Acts” Of Gun-Smuggling Suspects, Which Gave A Brief Account Of Officers Finding The “Fast And Furious” Gun With Celis-Acosta. “The congressional leaders said they learned of the gun arrest from a list of ‘Overt Acts’ of gun-smuggling suspects that was compiled by an ATF official during Fast and Furious. ‘On April 2, 2010,’ states one notation on the list, ‘a firearm purchased by Patino on March 26, 2010, was recovered by law enforcement officials and was possessed by Celis-Acosta.’ The item gave no further information about the incident.” (Richard A. Serrano, “’Fast And Furious’ Probe:  Lead Suspect Released More Than Once,” Los Angeles Times, 3/22/12)

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