WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kevin O’Reilly, a member of the White House National Security Staff who was in regular communication with the Arizona-based ATF agent responsible for running the operation Fast and Furious was abruptly transferred to Iraq in July 2011. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants to know why.
Shortly after O’Reilly’s key testimony before the committee he was transferred from the White House. Since then, the White House has refused to allow O’Reilly to be interviewed either by the committee or by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who conducted the administration’s internal investigation of Fast and Furious.
In Sept. 20 testimony before the Oversight Committee, Horowitz said that the White House’s refusal to let O’Reilly speak and to provide the IG’s office with access to relevant internal White House communications “made it impossible” to “pursue that aspect of the case.”
In a letter they sent to O’Reilly’s attorney last Thursday, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned that Issa would subpoena O’Reilly if he did not agree to testify.
In a March 28, 2012 letter to White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Issa and Grassley had said: “O’Reilly’s personal lawyer has represented to the Committee that he would permit his client to speak to the Committee in the absence of any objection from the White House.”
In an April 5, 2012 response to Issa and Grassley, Ruemmler wrote: “In light of the important Executive Branch confidentiality interests and institutional prerogatives implicated by your request, including those of NSS [National Security Staff], and in the absence of any evidence that suggests that Mr. O’Reilly had any involvement in ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ or was aware of the existence of any inappropriate investigative tactics, there is an insufficient basis to support the request to interview Mr. O’Reilly.”
The letter from Issa and Grassley indicates that while O’Reilly was working at the White House he communicated for more than half a year about Fast and Furious with ATF Special Agent in Charge William Newell, who was in charge of the operation for the ATF in Arizona.
“Last year, the Department of Justice and the White House produced several series of email exchanges ranging from July 2010 to February 2011 between O’Reilly and William Newell pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious and Newell’s work as head of the ATF Phoenix Filed Division,” wrote Issa and Grassley. “At that time, O’Reilly was serving on the National Security Staff at the White House. Several of the emails produced by the Department and the White House raise serious questions about the nature and the purpose of their interactions. For example, one email from Newell, the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Phoenix Field Division, began, ‘You didn’t get these from me …’ Another email shows Newell’s intent to circumvent his leadership structure in talking with O’Reilly: ‘Just don’t want ATF HQ to find out, especially since this is what they should be doing (briefing you)!’”
A State Department official told CNSNews.com last week that O’Reilly was no longer assigned to Iraq and is now between assignments—but would not say what O’Reilly’s next assignment is.
“I can confirm that he [Kevin O’Reilly] is no longer in Iraq but he has not yet started in his next position,” said a State Department official. “So, I can’t confirm what that position is. I just don’t have any information on that right now, what his next position will be or when he will be starting.”
Apparently, O’Reilly was willing to talk to congressional investigators by phone while he was working in Iraq, according to a March 28, 2012 letter from Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley but the White House was unwilling to allow the conversations. 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.”
During the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Sept. 20 Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) asked Horowitz, “You noted also in your report that the White House refused to share internal communications with you during your investigation of Fast and Furious. We’ve noted a connection into the White House through Kevin O’Reilly at the National Security Council. Do you believe the White House’s refusal to share these documents limited the scope of your investigation? And would this committee be well served by pursuing an investigation in that avenue?”
Horowitz answered, “Well, as we noted in the report, and as you know, congressman, we did not get internal communications from the White House and Mr. O’Reilly’s unwillingness to speak to us made it impossible for us to pursue that angle of the case and the question that had been raised.”
In their letter to O’Reilly lawyer, Issa and Grassley note that the program in Baghdad that O’Reilly was assigned to run was cited in an inspector general’s report for wasting tax dollars.
“The program ‘drawn up to be the single largest State Department program in the world,’ recently came under fire in a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, published a year after O’Reilly took the helm, for having a ‘total amount of de facto waste … to about $206 million.’”
“These events raise serious questions about O’Reilly’s assignment in Baghdad, the motivation for his transfer there, his qualifications for his position there, and the potentially extreme waste of taxpayer dollars in placing O’Reilly in this position,” Issa and Grassley wrote.