Former Mexican officials charged in "Fast and Furious" gunwalking scheme

Former Mexican officials charged in "Fast and Furious" gunwalking scheme
AP Photo/Augusto Zurita

Mexico’s attorney general on Sunday announced that a judge in that country has issued arrest warrants for seven individuals, including several former government officials, in connection with the scandalous scheme a decade ago to allow U.S.-purchased firearms to be walked into the custody of drug cartel members south of the border.

Only three of the seven suspects have been named at this point, and all of them are currently in custody either here in the United States or in Mexico; former Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, along with former public security secretary Genaro Garcia Luna and former Federal Police head of intelligence Luis Cárdenas Palomino.

In a press release, Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero stayed pretty vague about the specific charges that the suspects are facing, but did include this laughable nugget of information.

We have been informed that the North American authorities have been in charge of investigating and holding responsible the public servants of that country.

Does anybody really think that Attorney General Merrick Garland is digging deep into the decision to put Operation Fast and Furious in place, or how the idea ever won approval given the obvious and inherent flaws in the plan to let cartel members illegally obtain firearms in the hopes that they could be tracked south of the border?

I’ve covered this scandal since the beginning, and one of the things that struck me at the time and has stayed with me ever since is the fact that no one in the Obama administratio, the DOJ, or the ATF has ever been able to adequately explain how Operation Fast & Furious was actually supposed to work. The stated goal of the operation was to let straw-purchased and illicitly obtained firearms “walk” into Mexico, where they would be traced and tracked to high-level cartel members. Instead, U.S. officials lost track of thousands of firearms after literally watching (in some cases) cartel members tote them across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The guns have been linked to dozens of crimes since, including the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and the attack on two Homeland Security agents in Mexico in 2011 by members of the Zeta cartel in which agent Jaime Zapata was killed and agent Victor Avila was wounded.

Just last month Avila told reporters that he still has unanswered questions about Operation Fast and Furious (as do the rest of us), but I don’t know if any of these arrest warrants out of Mexico are going to lead to any new information. We don’t have many details about the scope of the new warrants, but based on the press release from Mexico’s attorney general, it sounds like he’s staying far away from delving into the decisions made by the Obama-era Justice Department and then-Attorney General Eric Holder and his top deputies.

Which brings us back to the laughable notion that the Biden administration is going to investigate and “hold accountable” the public servants who unleashed Fast and Furious and helped to arm the cartels they were supposed to be targeting. We’ve known who most of the decision makers were for damn near a decade now, but the only consequences any of them have ever faced have been a couple of resignations.

Former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson resigned, but was kept on at the Department of Justice and still has a teaching gig at George Washington University (as well as a seat on the ethics committee of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences). Jason Weinstein, a senior official in the DOJ criminal division, resigned as well, but is now a partner at the prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm of Steptoe & Johnson.

Other officials, like the ATF’s Bill Newell, were allowed to quietly retire and move on to new adventures, but as far as actual legal consequences go, no one’s ever been held accountable for planning and executing Operation Fast and Furious. And while the news of the seven arrest warrants issued by a judge in Mexico is a clear sign that not everyone has forgotten this scandal, we’ve got a better chance of Joe Biden becoming Trump’s running mate in 2024 than Biden’s Department of Justice seriously investigating and prosecuting any former official in connection with the Fast and Furious scandal.