WH Clarifies: Obama Told CNN Espanol in March He Heard About 'Fast and Furious' 'On the News'

October 5, 2011 - 7:28 PM

Obama

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) – When asked at the White House press briefing today when President Barack Obama first learned about Operation Fast and Furious, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the president had indicated at a press conference in El Salvador earlier this year that he had first learned about the operation when he "read about it" somewhere. Later, however, Carney clarified to CNSNews.com that the president had explained how he learned about Fast and Furious not at the press conference in El Salvador but in an interview with CNN Espanol that had aired that same day, March 22.

In the March 22 interview, Obama said: “There have been problems, you know. I heard on the news about this story that fast and furious, where allegedly guns were being run into Mexico and ATF knew about it but didn't apprehend those who had sent it. Eric Holder has -- the attorney general has been very clear that he knew nothing about this. We had assigned an IG, inspector general, to investigate it.”

At today’s White House briefing, Fox News’ Ed Henry asked about the topic.

Carney replied, “As he [Obama] said in public at a press conference, he heard when he read about it sometime earlier this year. The press conference was in El Salvador when he was on that trip. I don’t have a specific day.”

Carney told CNSNews.com after the briefing that Obama did not speak about it at the press conference, which was held on March 22 in El Salvador. The White House press office clarified that Obama spoke about the matter on CNN Espanol. Carney said he did not have an exact date or month when the president first read about it in the news.

Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP File Photo)

On March 22, Obama also gave an interview to the Spanish-language Univision and was asked about Operation Fast and Furious. The president did not specify when he found out about the botched gun-running operation, only that he was not informed.

“Well, first of all, I did not authorize it,” Obama said on Univision. “Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it. He’s been very clear that our policy is to catch gun-runners and put them in jail. So, what he’s done is, he’s assigned an IG, an inspector general to investigate what exactly happened here.

The reporter then asked, “So who authorized it?”

Obama said, “Well, we don’t have all the facts. That’s why the IG is in business.”

“And you were not even informed about it?” said the reporter. Obama said, “Absolutely not. This is a pretty big government, the United States government. I’ve got a lot of moving parts.”

“There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made,” said Obama. “If that’s the case, then we’ll find -- find out and we’ll hold somebody accountable.”

The Univision reporter then asked, “Mexico was not informed then?” Obama answered, “Well, if I wasn’t informed, I assure you Mexico wasn’t.”

Operation Fast and Furious was a botched gun-sting operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) knowingly allowed guns to flow to Mexican drug cartels. The ATF lost track of most of the near 2,000 guns that it intended to track.

The program that began in September 2009 was halted in December 2010 when two guns from the operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The matter is under investigation by Congress and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Brian Terry,  border agent

U.S. Border Agent Brian A. Terry, shot and killed on Dec. 14, 2010, near Rio Rico, Arizona, while trying to catch bandits who target illegal immigrants.

On June 27, CNSNews.com asked Carney, “Could you tell me what is the exact date that the president learned about the Justice Department ATF operation to allow guns to flow into Mexico?”

Carney eventually answered, “I’ll have to get back to you. I don’t have an exact date for you.”

Carney did not respond June 28 and July 6 follow-up inquiries. CNSNews.com asked again on Wednesday morning, Oct. 5, and received no response.

During a June 29 press conference, a reporter asked Obama, “Fast and Furious, members of Congress and the government of Mexico are still waiting for answers. Are you planning to replace ATF leadership? And when can we expect the results of the current investigation?”

Obama answered, “On the second question, as you know, my attorney general has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun-running to be able to pass through into Mexico. The investigation is still pending. I’m not going to comment on a current investigation. I’ve made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF, and we’ve got to find out how that happened. As soon as the investigation is completed, I think appropriate actions will be taken.”

Newly released documents show Attorney General Eric Holder was informed about the operation in memos from July 2010, which apparently contradicts his May 3 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, when he said:  “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has called for a special counsel to probe whether Holder told Congress the truth when he was under oath.

Carney dismissed the demand and defended Holder.

“The president believes he’s an excellent attorney general and has great confidence in him and we absolutely know that the testimony he gave was consistent and truthful,” Carney said. “A piece of paper in a document that is many, many pages long contained a phrase that discussed nothing about the tactics that are at issue here.”