The Fortune exposé, which reporter Katherine Eban says took her six months to assemble, is exhaustive and tough to summarize, but its highlights are these:
- Contrary to the narrative advanced by conservative bloggers and politicians, the federal government did not intentionally allow the sale of any guns to Mexican bandits.
- Seven ATF agents based in Phoenix were tasked with trying to stop the “river of iron”—2,000 American guns crossing into Mexico every day. (Those sales represent millions of dollars a week to gun manufacturers—who are major donors to the NRA’s lobbying efforts.)
- Their job was hard, because there’s no federal law against gun trafficking, there’s no electronic database of gun purchases, and you can buy as many guns as you want in Arizona, and resell them to anyone, anytime—all thanks to the NRA and pro-gun lobbyists. “In Arizona,” says Dave Voth, the ATF agent who ran the Phoenix operation, “someone buying three guns is like someone buying a sandwich.”
- The agents watched dozens of people roll in and buy lots of guns from one of Phoenix’s 853 licensed sellers, but they were powerless to stop them—thanks to lax gun laws, federal prosecutors said they couldn’t arrest the buyers, even when they turned around and dumped the guns on other people (so-called “straw purchases”). The best the agents could do was try to slow down the purchases and watch where the guns went. (One prosecutor, Emory Hurley, was reportedly a gun enthusiast, and agents muttered that his love for the Second Amendment made him reluctant to go after straw purchasers.)
- This: “After examining one suspect’s garbage, agents learned he was on food stamps yet had plunked down more than $300,000 for 476 firearms in six months. Voth asked if the ATF could arrest him for fraudulently accepting public assistance when he was spending such huge sums. Prosecutor Hurley said no. In another instance, a young jobless suspect paid more than $10,000 for a 50-caliber tripod-mounted sniper rifle. According to Voth, Hurley told the agents they lacked proof that he hadn’t bought the gun for himself.”
- ATF agents did not recruit anyone to buy weapons and pass them to criminals, with a single exception: John Dodson, the renegade agent who allegedly blew the whistle on the “Fast & Furious” operation. Against Voth’s express instructions, Dodson—who according to Fortune‘s account was a seemingly insubordinate, slapdash former narcotics cop from Virginia that even his ex-partner describes as “an asshole”—”used $2,500 in ATF funds to purchase six AK Draco pistols from local gun dealers,” then passed them on to a suspected gun trafficker, then…went on vacation. (Incidentally, this is what an AK Draco looks like:
It’s a modified, semiautomatic AK-47 carbine with the buttstock removed. Under the Clinton-era Brady Assault Weapons Ban, which was allowed to expire in 2004, this gun would have been illegal for sale in the US.)
- In January 2011, Dodson—again, the only ATF agent who had ever actually passed guns to a suspected trafficker, according to Fortune—told a very different story to staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and CBS News. Selling himself as a “whistleblower,” he alleged that his bosses had systematically sold guns to smugglers. He reportedly told ATF supervisors that his agency boss “had always ‘treated him like shit’ and that it ‘felt good’ to speak with someone outside ATF.”
From there, the right-wing blogosphere—which tends to regard the ATF as a bunch of jackbooted thugs—took over, spinning Dodson into a heroic whistleblower and pretending that his very small transaction was part of a very large conspiracy by the Department of Justice. Issa and Grassley have since taken up the crusade on Capitol Hill and tied it to Obama. “We got a lie, we got a cover-up,” Issa said last weekend on Meet the Press.
But Fortune‘s investigation puts the lie to that claim…
Unless, of course, Rush is a liar and doesn’t keep his promises…