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Archive for August 4th, 2011

Fast and Furious Official No Longer Going to Mexico as Attache; Mexican Govt. Asks for Transcripts of His Testimony

William Newell

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

William Newell, who headed ATF’s Phoenix Division during the controversial operation dubbed Fast and Furious, won’t be going to Mexico as ATF’s attache after all.

The agency has decided to to nix that assignment before he even heads south. Instead, he’s been named special assistant to the ATF Assistant Director for the Office of Management in Washington.

The reassignment comes at a time the Mexican Justice Department known as the PGR is reportedly conducting a criminal probe into the Fast and Furious Operation.  It has also requested transcripts of Newell’s recent testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Concern had surfaced recently within ATF that the Mexican government might arrest Newell if he came down there as the attache.

Lydia Antonio, a press officer for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, declined to comment for this story. An ATF official familiar with the matter confirmed the reassignment, but declined to speculate on why Newell’s Mexico City assignment was changed.

The move to keep Newell in Washington is direct turn about for the agency, which up until recently, had insisted that Newell was  still going to Mexico City as the ATF attache even as the  Mexican government fumed over Fast and Furious, which encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers or middlemen, with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels. Some of the guns have surfaced at crime scenes.

ATF first announced internally last Fall that Newell, who is fluent in Spanish, would become the new attache in Mexico City. But after the controversy broke over Fast and Furious, ATF delayed his departure to Mexico and sent him on a detour to Washington to help Congressional investigators and the Inspector General investigate the faulty Fast and Furious operation.

Agents around the country, according to one person, were angry over Newell’s testimony at a Congressional hearing last month when he denied that ATF let guns walk.  During his testimony, he admitted there had been some mistakes, but essentially defended the operation.

In a phone interview Thursday with ticklethewire.com, Newell’s attorney Paul Pelletier of Washington, a former federal prosecutor,  commented on  Newell’s  job change by saying:  “Going to Mexico, given the way his public service has been unfairly portrayed, would not be prudent.”

But Pelletier said Newell has been extremely dedicated to fighting gun trafficking to Mexico.

“Bill’s career with the ATF has been mostly on the Southwest border and he’s made his career literally preventing guns from going to Mexico” he said. “That’s what his career has been based on. He’s done a lot. He’s been a strong advocate of stopping the flow of guns into Mexico.”

He said  Newell volunteered to take his family to Mexico City to take on a dangerous assignment so he could continue addressing the problem.

“The public theater has not been fair to him and has not been fair to ATF.”

Pelletier also noted that Newell was instrumental in getting a member of the Mexican Justice Department stationed in the Phoenix Division.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Robert Mueller Chalks Up 2 New Records as Director

Atty. Gen. Holder (left) and FBI Director Mueller /fbi file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Robert S. Mueller III takes on two new records as the FBI director.

For one, he’s the first director to serve a full 10-year term since J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972. And Wednesday, he became the first to get a two-year extension.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. swore Mueller in Wednesday to take on the two-year extension beyond his 10-year term. President Obama last week signed legislation allowing the extension.

The President then forwarded the nomination to the Senate, which confirmed Mueller for two more years.

In 1976, Congress enacted a law limiting the FBI Director to a 10-year term to prevent directors from accumulating too much power, as Hoover was perceived to have had.

Mueller’s term was to end in September.

VP Biden Breaks New Ground: First Protectee to Collect Rent from Secret Service

govt photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

If Vice President Joe Biden was looking to break new ground as the VP, by gosh, he’s done it.

The Delaware News Journal reports that he is the first U.S. Secret Service protectee to receive rental income as a landlord for the agents who protect him.

Biden rents out a cottage at his suburban Wilmington home in Delaware to the Secret Service for $2,200 a month. So far, he’s gotten more than $13,000 and he’s eligible to get a total of $66,000 under a contract that expires in 2013.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told the paper:

“We’ve not rented from protectees before.”

ATF Dir. Ken Melson Getting Out and Talking to the Troops

Ken Melson/atf photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Ken Melson, the acting director of ATF, who seemed like a goner last month, is now acting as if he might be around for a while.

In fact, Melson is making an effort to show more leadership by communicating more with the troops. Last week, he conducted a town hall meeting at headquarters to discuss the state of ATF with employees, according to several law enforcement people familiar with the situation.

And since then, he’s been conducting meetings with groups of special agents in charge, who head up ATF offices around the country.

One person familiar with the meetings said the townhall meeting at headquarters dealt primarily with ATF’s budget and other agency matters.  But at least one person asked Melson about Operation Fast and Furious, the controversial operation that encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell weapons to straw purchasers, all with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels.

ATF lost track of a lot of those weapons, some of which surfaced at crime scenes. That triggered a major controversy for ATF, perhaps the biggest since Waco.

In meeting with SACs in recent days, Melson has tried to assure the officials that Fast and Furious was a Phoenix Division issue and was not a systemic problem within ATF,  according to one person.

However, the ATF officials in the field told Melson that the Fast and Furious issue went far beyond the Phoenix Division — at least when it came to harming morale inside the agency.

Many SACs were also angry about the recent Congressional testimony of William Newell, who headed the Phoenix office during the Fast and Furious Operation. They felt his testimony was less than forthright.

Melson indicated that no punitive action would be taken against  anyone at ATF until the Office of Inspector General issues a report on the matter.

Rumors had circulated that Melson, who complained about being the Justice Department scapegoat in the Fast and Furious mess, might be replaced in early July by Andrew Traver, head of the Chicago ATF, who has been nominated by the White House to become the permanent director.

But that never happened, possibly because it would have looked bad if  Melson was replaced just as he was starting to speak up about the mess to Congressional investigators.

Melson had complained to Congressional investigators that he was being muzzled by the Justice Department and kept from communicating to the troops about the Fast and Furious controversy.

According to his testimony provided to investigators and released by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Melson said:

“Part of the problem, and one of the things that infuriated me was that I have not been allowed to communicate to the troops about anything. So, for example, earlier on, I wanted to do a broadcast that just talked about the case because everybody was wondering what’s this case about? What are you doing at headquarters?

“How come you were not issuing press releases and how come you were not ordering press conference ad pushing back and things like that? And I was told not do do that. Then after we wanted to do several things to talk to our people about what this case was about, what it wasn’t about, and you know, where were were going and the fact that we were cooperating as much as we could with the committee and with the Department, but we were restrained from doing that.”

Attorneys for Accused Mexican Drug Lord Says Justice Department Protected Him

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Mexico may not be thrilled about the latest allegations coming out of the U.S.

The news service All Headline News (AHN) reports that court filings in an upcoming Chicago case against accused Mexican drug lord Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla claim the Justice Department agreed to protect Niebla from prosecution in exchange for information about other drug cartels.

Zambada, 36, is the son of an alleged leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel that operates in Mexico’s western states, AHN reported

The filing by Zambada’s attorneys claims the Justice Department gave the Sinaloa cartel’s leaders “carte blanche to continue to smuggle tons of illicit drugs into Chicago and the rest of the rest of the United States.”

ATF Ups Game in APP World

Screen shot of ATF APP

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

ATF is upping its game in the technology world.

The agency announced Wednesday the release of Apps for Android and Windows Phone 7 devices, and an updated application for Apple iPhone and iPod touch devices.

“With the latest release of the iOS ATF app, developed in cooperation with NIC Inc., users will have the added ability to access information regarding firearms types and nomenclature,” a press release said.

“Android and Windows Phone 7 users will be able to learn about ATF history and areas of expertise, find their local ATF field office and sign up for e-mail updates on the latest ATF-related news.”

“ATF is committed to making its mobile presence one that proves both educational to the general public and useful to our industry and law enforcement partners,” said Scot Thomasson, chief of ATF Public Affairs Division. “The iOS update along with the Android and Windows Phone 7 versions are important steps toward that goal.”

NRA Files Suit to Block ATF from Monitoring Gun Sales Along Mexico Border

atf file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklthewire.com

The National Rifle Association, which is feared and revered by many on Capitol Hill — and loathed by others — is flexing its muscle in its never ending battle with ATF.

The latest: The New York Times reports that the NRA on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging a federal regulation that requires gun dealers in states  along the Mexican border to report sales of two or more semiautomatic rifles within five days that can use ammunition larger than .22 caliber.

The NRA claims that Obama administration exceeded its power when it implemented the regulation last month without Congressional approval. It asks a judge to block ATF from enforcing the regulation.

“N.R.A. has always viewed this as a blatant attempt by the Obama administration to pursue their gun control agenda through back-door rule-making, and the N.R.A. will fight them every step of the way,” said Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the gun rights group, according to the Times.

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. vowed to “vigorously oppose” the N.R.A. challenge, the Times reported.

“We think that the action we have taken is consistent with the law,” Holder told reporters on Wednesday, “and that the measures that we are proposing are appropriate ones to stop the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico.”

Note to Joe Biden — Give Secret Service Back the $13,000

govt photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

What better way to show gratitude to the folks who protect your life than to charge them so they can protect your life?

Makes sense?  No!

I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. After all,  when you take into account the real costs of providing executive protection, this is small potatoes.

Nonetheless, I have a message to Vice President Joe Biden: Give the Secret Service back  the $13,000 it paid you. The Regular Joe, the Average Joe, the guy who rides the train and talks about Scranton, Pa., the Joe we thought we knew, would never take that money. He would get it.

In case you missed it, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Secret Service, which protects Biden, is paying Biden $2,200 a month to rent a cottage next to his suburban Wilimington, Del., home.

Records show Biden has collected more than $13,000 since April on the cottage, and is eligible to collect up to $66,000 before the contract expires in 2013.

It’s not a lot of money. But heck, Joe, the deficit sucks and it sure would be nice if you’d make a symbolic gesture and give back the money.

Show us there’s still a little decency and common sense left in Washington.