TUCSON, Ariz. -- The ATF agent who blew the whistle on the agency's flawed gunwalking program, Operation Fast and Furious, is now suing Time, Inc., the media giant that publishes Fortune Magazine. Last summer, Fortune wrote a story that portrayed Operation Fast and Furious as a misconstrued scandal utilized by the Republican party to slam the agency. The agent, John Dodson, is seeking a minimum $75,000, saying the magazine's story subjected him to hate, ridicule and contempt.
There's a lot to think about here, so I'm going to start with the story itself. The Fortune reporter wrote, "How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today. It's a story that starts with a grudge, specifically Dodson's anger at (David) Voth."
Voth is Dodson's supervisor. This was the first time Voth had spoken up in his own defense.
Dodson's complaint against Time states:
"He is described in the article as a “renegade.” The article, read as a whole, communicates that Plaintiff is unfit for his profession, a law breaker and motivated by personal grudges as opposed to his oath to follow the law."
Then there's this gem in the civil complaint against Time:
"The article also defamed and demeaned the Plaintiff by communicating that he is lazy and did not want to work weekends."
A detail that true or false, Fortune did indeed place in its article: "Dodson didn't want to work weekends,” it says.
Followed by another detail in the story, again, I've no idea whether it's true or not: "Dodson would show up to work in flip-flops."
Well, we'll just have to wait and see if Dodson's lawsuit goes anywhere. Time had 21 days from Oct. 15 to respond to the suit and it's possible the response just hasn't been uploaded to the federal court's website where Dodson filed suit.
Now, back to Fast and Furious and Fortune's story.
When Fortune's story first came out, it caused a lot of discomfort, not only in the law enforcement community but in political circles, among border residents, and most especially among myself and my colleagues. We were basically being told we got the story wrong, by a major magazine, no less.
I sat down to read Fortune's story and didn't just read it once, but several times, then several more. Fortune's basic premise was that ATF is a constantly beleaguered agency suddenly attacked by renegade agents (Dodson, mostly). The agency was in a bind. Not only was it understaffed in Phoenix, but prosecutors in Arizona weren't taking the straw-buyer cases the ATF was bringing in.
Here's the core of Fortune's story that serves as a nutshell of the whole read:
"Quite simply, there's a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. [Congressman Darrell] Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn."
Well, it depends on what you mean by walk. See, in the Office of Inspector General report, William Newell, ATF’s special agent in charge of Phoenix said he believed “walking” meant placing ATF weapons in the hands of a criminal and letting the bad guy walk away. In other words, he didn’t think watching people illegally buying guns and walking away with them was walking.
Then this paragraph in the OIG’s report is telling. The OIG questioned Newell about Operation Wide Receiver, Fast and Furious’ predecessor. The report states:
"Newell acknowledged, however, that failing to seize firearms that were sold by a cooperating FFL at ATF’s direction may have been “walking” if agents had probable cause. However, he emphasized that both “walking” and “failure to interdict” contemplate that agents had probable cause to seize the firearms, and he maintained that in Operation Wide Receiver the U.S. Attorney’s Office repeatedly told Tucson agents that there was not probable cause to interdict and seize firearms or to make arrests.
“We found no evidence to support Newell’s claim. Indeed, Tucson agents told us that they had no difficulty getting firearms cases prosecuted by the Tucson U.S. Attorney’s Office, and numerous witnesses stated that the Tucson Office did not follow the so-called corpus delicti policy requiring physical recovery of firearms to prosecute straw purchaser cases.”
Fortune wrote a follow-up piece to its story when the OIG report came out. It backs off the earlier contention that ATF only let guns go because prosecutors wouldn’t relinquish the hard standards they required to take these strawbuyer cases.
It remains to be seen whether Fortune will next back off their assertion that Dodson didn’t like working weekends.