Grassley teamed up with Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to launch an investigation and subpoena thousands of documents from the Justice Department.
Before the inquiry, Newell said, the former acting ATF director, Kenneth Melson, praised him for Fast and Furious. But when Congress began investigating, Melson stopped calling. To this day, no senior Justice Department official has talked to Newell about Fast and Furious, and his bosses at ATF have never publicly defended him.
Efforts to reach Melson through his attorney were unsuccessful.
Newell has been called a liar and “Gunwalker Bill” by conservative bloggers and chastised by members of Congress.
At a packed congressional hearing in July, lawmakers grilled Newell, demanding to know who authorized Fast and Furious and peppering him with stinging criticism. He acknowledged that he could have been a better manager; he could have stressed to his superiors the growing number of firearms involved in the case and argued that his agents had enough evidence to seize more guns.
“His actions contributed to deaths and an ongoing public safety hazard,” said Frederick R. Hill, a spokesman for Issa.
Picking up the pieces
Newell, 46, says he is trying to pick up the pieces of a broken career.
Once a rising star at ATF who had spent a decade immersed in the gun wars on the southwestern border, Newell lost his job as special agent in charge of the Phoenix office, as well as a promotion to be the agency’s attache in Mexico. The 24-year veteran was transferred to ATF headquarters in Washington, while his wife and sons have stayed in Arizona.
“The pressure I have been under over the last several months has been nothing like I have ever experienced,” he wrote in a letter to Congress. “This inquiry and the way it has been handled has taken a physical toll on my family, me and the dedicated men and women who continue to pursue the goals of this investigation.”
A handful of Justice and ATF officials have been reassigned or removed from their posts as a result of Fast and Furious. But Newell said the fallout on the border will be much longer-lasting.
The chance to deeply penetrate a Mexican drug cartel and bring down its trafficking pipelines is gone, he said. Federal agents will now be forced to stick to smaller, easier and more inconsequential gun cases, away from operations that could have a significant impact on the flow of guns to Mexico.
“To this day, I strongly believe that we were doing our best to have the greatest impact on a very serious problem — firearms trafficking to Mexico,” Newell said. “We were trying to cut off the head of the snake.”