A day before the fight over Fast and Furious comes to a head in Congress, a new Fortune investigation alleges that the popular narrative told about the botched gun-walking operation is all wrong.
Several former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives say in the report that guns were never purposefully allowed to walk over the border.
“Just the opposite,” Fortune reporter Katherine Eban writes. “They say they seized weapons whenever they could, but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.”
The six-month Fortune investigation included reviewing more than 2,000 pages of ATF documents and interviewing 39 people, many of whom were agents with knowledge of the case.
Public ire focused on ATF Phoenix field office supervisor David Voth and other office supervisors, after ATF agent and whistleblower John Dodson alleged that his supervisors had intentionally allowed guns to be smuggled over the border. This startling admission came about 10 weeks after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout with Mexican bandits along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The public case alleging that Voth and his collegeagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths and even some outright lies,” Eban’s report states.
The story tells a tale of poor communication between the ATF field office and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office. Former ATF agents, including Voth, said conflicts arose with U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke and Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, hampering potential prosecutions. According to emails, William Newell, special agent in charge of the ATF Arizona Field Division, suspected Burke wasn’t fully aware of the gun situation that was brewing.
The law enforcement officials interviewed also say the realities of the operation have been obscured by the high-profile congressional inquiry, lead by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)
“Republican senators are whipping up the country into a psychotic frenzy with these reports that are patently false,” Linda Wallace, a former Internal Revenue Service special agent who worked on the operation, told Fortune.
On Thursday, the full House will vote on a contempt of Congress measure against Attorney General Eric Holder. The contempt centers on a fight between the House committee and the Justice Department over the disclosure of thousands of documents related to Fast and Furious, which Holder has called a “fatally flawed” investigation. The commonly held thought is that ATF allowed the guns to “walk” over the border in an attempt to track them and gain intelligence on dangerous drug cartel members. Reports state that the operation backfired, however, when some of the guns were lost. Two were found at the scene of a shootout between U.S. Border Patrol Agents and Mexican bandits. Terry was killed in the gunfire.