Obama Made Pre-Inaugural ‘Pledge’ on Stopping Guns to Mexico; Holder, Napolitano Worked Issue From First Month

June 20, 2012 - 4:57 PM

Barack Obama, Felipe Calderon

President-elect Barack Obama and then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the Jan. 12, 2009 meeting where Obama pledged to work to stop flow of guns to Mexico. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) - Three and a half years before he invoked executive privilege in refusing to hand over to Congress internal Justice Department documents about Operation Fast and Furious--and just eight days before his inauguration--President-elect Barack Obama met with Mexican President Calderon over lunch at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., and “pledged” that he would take action aimed at stopping the flow of guns into that country from the United States.

Public statements from both Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demonstrate that they were both personally working on this issue from their first month in office.

Explaining the pledge that Obama made to Calderon at their Jan. 12, 2009 lunch, incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement that day indicating that Obama would ask incoming Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to lead part of the administration’s effort in stopping the movement of guns to Mexico.

In particular, Napolitano was supposed to "increase information sharing."

“President-elect Obama expressed support for efforts in the border states in both the United States and Mexico to eradicate drug-related violence and stop the flow of guns and cash,” said Gibbs. “He told President Calderón that he intends to ask the Secretary of Homeland Security to lead an effort to increase information sharing to strengthen those efforts.

“He pledged to take more effective action from the United States to stem the flow of arms from the United States to Mexico,” said Gibbs.

A month later, the newly confirmed Napolitano testified in the House Homeland Security Committee that she was already working with the White House national security adviser, Attorney General Eric Holder and the ATF, to do just that.

Napolitano told the committee that stopping the southbound flow of guns into Mexico was “going to be of real priority interest over these coming months.”

That same day, Feb. 25, 2009, Attorney General Holder held a press conference in which he discussed a conversation he had had with the Mexican attorney general about guns being smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico. In the same press conference, Holder also highlighted the role of the ATF in stopping the gun smuggling.

He also pointed to President Obama’s commitment to seeking reinstatement of the assault weapons ban as one means of achieving the administration goal of stemming the flow of guns to Mexico.

“In our conversations yesterday and in a phone conversation I had with the attorney general [of Mexico], I guess in the week before, that was a concern that he raised, about the number of illegal weapons that are finding their way to Mexico; not only the number, but I guess the caliber, the size of the weapons that you see in Mexico,” Holder said at that 2009 press conference.

“ATF is doing all that it can to ensure that we stanch the flow of those weapons to Mexico,” Holder continued. “As good partners, I think that is one of the things that we have to do. If Mexican authorities, Mexican law enforcement personnel are going to put their lives on the line, we in the United States, it seems to me, have a responsibility to make sure that they are not fighting substantial numbers of weapons or fighting against AK-47s or other similar kinds of weapons that have been flowing to Mexico.

“And," Holder said, "it was also one of the reasons why--and you'll forgive me for the Spanish that I use--to try to express to our friends, our colleagues in Mexico, in their language, our determination to stand with them in this courageous fight that President Calderon and the attorney general have started."

A reporter then asked Holder about the Mexican government’s desire to see the assault-weapons ban reinstated in the U.S.

“Well, as President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons,” Holder said. “I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum.”

Ironically, in a letter Holder sent to Obama this Tuesday, asking the president to invoke executive privilege in refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee seeking documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation, Holder used language to describe the operation that echoed the language Gibbs had used in 2009 to describe the substance of Obama’s gun-stopping pledge to Calderon.

“The subpoena relates to the Committee’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, a law enforcement operation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and Explosive (‘ATF’) and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona to stem the illegal flow of firearms from the United States to drug cartels in Mexico (‘Fast and Furious’),’ Holder wrote the president. “The Committee has scheduled a meeting for June 20, 2012, to vote on a resolution holding me in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with the subpoena.”

Obama granted Holder’s request to invoke executive privilege in refusing to comply with the subpoena, and today the committee voted on party lines in favor of a resolution recommending that the House of Representatives hold Holder in contempt.

Rather than “stem the flow of arms from the United States to Mexico,” as Obama pledged to Calderon he would seek to do, the administration, under Operation Fast and Furious, actually allowed guns to be purchased within the United States by known straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels.

In its resolution recommending that the House hold Holder in contempt, the Oversight  Committee describes the essence of Fast and Furious, which began in November 2009--ten months after Obama made his anti-gun-trafficking pledge to Calderon, and nine months after Holder and Napolitano publicly indicated they were personally working on the gun-trafficking issue.

“During Fast and Furious, ATF agents used an investigative technique known as ‘gunwalking’--that is, allowing illegally-purchased weapons to be transferred to third parties without attempting to disrupt or deter the illegal activity,” says the contempt resolution. “ATF agents abandoned surveillance on known straw purchasers after they illegally purchased weapons that ATF agents knew were destined for Mexican drug cartels. Many of these transactions established probable cause for agents to interdict the weapons or arrest the possessors, something every agent was trained to do.

“Yet,” says the Holder contempt resolution, “Fast and Furious aimed instead to allow the transfer of these guns to third parties. In this manner, the guns fell into the hands of DTOs, and many would turn up at crime scenes. ATF then traced these guns to their original straw purchaser, in an attempt to establish a connection between that individual and the DTO.”

The administration’s gun-walking operation continued for more than a year until two of the firearms that had been allowed to walk ended up at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

“Starting in late 2009, many line agents objected vociferously to some of the techniques used during Fast and Furious, including gunwalking,” says the Holder contempt resolution. “The investigation continued for another year, however, until shortly after December 15, 2010, when two weapons from Fast and Furious were recovered at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.”

Almost two years before Agent Terry was murdered, but just one month after Obama pledged to Calderon that he would take steps to stop guns from flowing to Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano testified in the House Homeland Security Committee that she was working toward that end with the Mexican government--as well as with the White House national security adviser, Attorney General Holder, the ATF, and Customs, the Homeland Security agency to which the Border Patrol belongs.

“We are working to support President Calderon in his efforts,” Napolitano said in her Feb. 25, 2009 testimony. “I believe this is going to require more than the Department of Homeland Security, so that we are reaching out to the national security adviser, to the attorney general and others about how we within the United States make sure we are doing all we can in a coordinated way to support the president of Mexico.

“I've met with the attorney general of Mexico and the ambassador already,” Napolitano said. “One of the things that I particularly am focused on is southbound traffic in guns. Particularly assault weapons and cash are being used to funnel and fund these very, very violent cartels.

“So working with Customs, working with ATF, we're looking at ways that we can help suppress that traffic,” said Napolitano. “But in my view, from a Homeland Security standpoint, this is going to be an issue, working with Mexico, that is going to be of real priority interest over these coming months.”

It was in his own testimony that day that Holder had insisted "ATF is doing all that it can to ensure that we stanch the flow of those weapons to Mexico."

The House Oversight and Government Reform committee has reported that via Fast and Furious the “U.S. government helped fuel Mexican violence allowing straw purchasers to buy approximately 2,000 assault-type weapons many of which walked into Mexico.”

As result, the committee says, at least 150 Mexican were “murdered by Fast and Furious weapons.”