Learning of ‘Fast and Furious’
Weinstein learned of “Operation Fast and Furious” almost by accident.
On an airplane to Interpol in spring 2010, Weinstein reviewed a prosecution memo for a case in Arizona. A deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, Weinstein realized then that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents in Tucson had monitored, but not seized, hundreds of firearms sold to suspected arms traffickers.
Weinstein was “stunned,” he told colleagues in an April 2010 e-mail, that agents in the case known as “Operation Wide Receiver” had “let this many guns walk” into Mexico.
Weinstein relayed his concerns to his boss, Lanny A. Breuer, chief of the criminal division. At Breuer’s direction, he met with senior ATF officials in Washington. Weinstein later told the inspector general’s office that he thought his ATF counterparts were as disturbed by the tactic as he was. He also came away with the strong impression that Wide Receiver was an aberration and would never be repeated. Shortly thereafter, he heard of another gun case that was being run out of the same ATF office in Phoenix: Operation Fast and Furious.
A few days later, Weinstein heard from William McMahon — one of the D.C.-based ATF officials who oversaw the western region, including Arizona.
McMahon said that agents running the Fast and Furious investigation would benefit if the department could expedite its review of wiretap applications. In their initial conversation, Weinstein later told the IG, McMahon gave him the clear impression that agents in Fast and Furious were aggressively seizing guns and that it was “completely different” from Wide Receiver.
Two weeks later, Weinstein received the first of three wiretap applications he would review for Fast and Furious. He said that following years of department practice, he signed off after reading summary memos prepared by lawyers in the Office of Enforcement Operations. He did not read the supporting affidavits. To do so would have slowed approval of time-sensitive wiretaps to a standstill and become his full-time job, Weinstein said. Had he done so in this case, he would have read about specific numbers of U.S.-purchased firearms that were being recovered in Mexico.
That fall, a two-sentence e-mail would cause him a different kind of distress.
One of the lawyers he supervised was drafting indictments against traffickers in Operation Wide Receiver — the Bush-era case in which Weinstein had detected guns “walking.” An indictment from the Fast and Furious case was also in the works.