(CNSNews.com) – Obama administration employee Kevin O’Reilly -- who congressional investigators called “the link connecting the White House to the [Fast and Furious] scandal” -- is back in the United States now after abruptly leaving his White House job to work in Iraq in 2011 after emails concerning him and Fast and Furious had surfaced.
O'Reilly left the United States in August 2011, shortly after his knowledge of the gun-walking program was publicized during a congressional hearing on July 26.
O’Reilly has so far refused to cooperate with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which recently threatened to subpoena him. He also refused to cooperate with the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which investigated the program and recently released its findings.
Both the House committee and the Inspector General's office sought to interview O'Reilly about Fast and Furious but the White House refused to grant him permission to be interviewed.
Fast and Furious, launched in September 2009, allowed about 2,000 U.S. guns to flow to Mexican drug cartels, with the apparent intent of tracing the guns. The ATF operation was halted in December 2010 after two of the guns were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
O’Reilly recently returned to Washington, D.C., to work in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, a State Department official confirmed to CNSNews.com.
O’Reilly previously served as director of North American Affairs for the White House National Security Staff (NSS), where he had a 2010 e-mail exchange with William Newell, the special agent in charge of the Phoenix field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which oversaw Operation Fast and Furious.
In August 2011 -- after the e-mails were first discussed at a July 26 congressional hearing -- O’Reilly was named as the senior director of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Programs in Iraq, a State Department position.
The State Department official told CNSNews.com that O’Reilly’s reassignment to Iraq from the White House “was a standard foreign service career rotation that had been planned for months in advance of his detail to the NSS.” The State Department could not confirm O’Reilly’s new title at the State Department.
The State Department official claimed to be unaware of an assertion by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who said someone else had been selected for the job in Iraq before O’Reilly was “suddenly” transferred there. (See related story)
“O’Reilly’s sudden transfer to Baghdad occurred just days after the aforementioned e-mails with William Newell were produced to the Committee and Newell testified about them before Congress,” Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight panel, and Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote in a Sept. 27 letter to O’Reilly’s attorney Thomas G. Connolly.
“Additionally, we have learned that O’Reilly took the place of a previously selected individual—an individual who had gone through a competitive application process and thorough vetting process, had the necessary qualifications, and whose spouse was already in Baghdad in anticipation of the individual’s arrival—to serve as the head of the Police Development Program.”
Connolly did not return phone calls or e-mails over the last week. CNSNews.com unsuccessfully attempted to reach him again on Wednesday.
The Sept. 27 letter from Issa and Grassley said O’Reilly’s cooperation was key to the Fast and Furious investigation.
“By not interviewing O’Reilly, the OIG (Justice Department’s inspector-general) could not fully determine the role the White House played in Fast and Furious,” Issa and Grassley wrote. “Given that O’Reilly was the link connecting the White House to the scandal, and that the President subsequently asserted executive privilege over documents pertaining to Fast and Furious, it is imperative that the American people get to the bottom of O’Reilly’s involvement in Fast and Furious.”
O’Reilly reportedly was willing to talk to congressional investigators over the phone while he was working in Iraq, according to a March 28, 2012 letter from Issa and Grassley to the White House. But White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler responded in an April 5, 2012 letter that “there is an insufficient basis to support the request to interview Mr. O’Reilly.”
The inspector-general’s report also said, “We were unable to further investigate the communications between Newell and O’Reilly because O’Reilly declined our request for an interview,” said the IG report.
“Newell told us that he had known O’Reilly during previous field office assignments and that the two shared information about firearms trafficking issues relevant to their geographic areas of responsibility,” the IG report said. “According to Newell, O’Reilly was also friends with ATF’s White House Liaison, and through that relationship O’Reilly would be included on some information-sharing between Newell and the ATF Liaison about ATF’s efforts on the Southwest Border, and that O’Reilly eventually communicated with Newell directly.”
The e-mail exchanges between O’Reilly and Newell occurred between July 2010 and February 2011. In some of those e-mails, O'Reilly said to Newell that he would inform two other White House National Security Staff officials: Dan Restrepo, the senior director for Western Hemisphere; and Greg Gatjanis, director for the Counterterrorism and Counternarcotics, about the Fast and Furious operation.
After receiving information from Newell, O’Reilly wrote on July 28, 2010: “This is great; very informative. OK to share with Sr. Director Dan Restrepo and CT/CN Director Greg Gatjanis? Would not leave the NSS, I assure you.”
Newell replied, “Sure, just don’t want ATF HQ to find out since this is what they should be doing (briefing you)!” On Sept. 3, 2010, Newell sent O’Reilly information that said, “You didn’t get this from me,” with information about potential indictments O’Reilly replied, “They’ll not go beyond Dan and me.”
The State Department deferred a question about whether O’Reilly would testify before a congressional committee to the White House. The White House had not responded by press time.