ATF official: I told the White House about Fast & Furious

What did Barack Obama know about Operation Fast and Furious, and when did he know it?  Rep. Darrell Issa’s committee uncovered an explosive nugget of information from the subpoena of ATF e-mail, which went public in yesterday’s hearings.  The ATF manager of the Phoenix office notified a White House official of Operation Fast and Furious as an update on the overall Project Gunrunner effort, connecting the controversial operation directly to the White House for the first time:

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. …

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.”

Issa asked him why O’Reilly would have been asking about Project Gunrunner, the overall interdictment effort, but that’s fairly clear.  As a national-security advisor with responsibility for North America, the cartels in Mexico would be one of the primary threats O’Reilly would watch.  O’Reilly told Newell that he planned to travel to Mexico to work on the issue, which would explain the need for an update.

What’s less clear is why Newell informed him with the caveat “you didn’t get this from me”.  Why wouldn’t the ATF report on Fast and Furious results to the White House when asked?  Was Newell told to avoid linking the operation directly to the White House, or was the ATF worried about the implications of the operation even before it blew up in their faces?  Given the hostility towards Congressional oversight already demonstrated at the ATF and Department of Justice during this investigation, this looks like even more evidence that the Obama administration let the ATF run wild, perhaps on purpose.

The more important question will be who O’Reilly told at the White House about the operation.  Clearly, O’Reilly wanted the information to prepare for key meetings on a very sensitive subject.  It’s hard to believe that O’Reilly would have kept that information to himself.  Issa’s committee needs to get O’Reilly into the hearing and on the record, and it may be time to subpoena some White House records, too.