It's one of the longest running Congressional investigations of our time: the probe into 'Fast and Furious', the government's secret operation to allow thousands of weapons to be trafficked to Mexico's killer drug cartels. In many respects, the story began when federal agent John Dodson agreed to an interview with me in March of 2011. It was highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for a sitting federal agent to blow the whistle on his government bosses. In today's cover story, we catch up on unfinished business more than six years later.
John Dodson: Part of my mission with the ATF in Phoenix was to combat a illegal firearms trafficking to the Mexican drug cartels. Somehow, in order to achieve that goal, the strategy that had been adopted was to facilitate and allow the illegal firearms trafficking to the Mexican drug cartels. We were essentially flooding the border region with firearms from the US civilian market, and then tracking and tallying the results as they were used in crimes on both sides of the border.
Sharyl: “We,” meaning federal agents who are supposed to be stopping the trafficking?
John Dodson: Yes, ma'am. Meaning the federal agency that was in charge of combating that very thing.
Sharyl: Special Agent John Dodson had objected internally to the dangerous practice of “gunwalking” secretly allowed by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. But his objections fell on deaf ears.
Sharyl: Was the final straw Brian Terry's murder?
John Dodson: Yes. When Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed, I immediately noticed that my agency was attempting to cover up any link between the investigation and the strategy that we employed and the death of Agent Terry.
Sharyl: Illegal immigrants armed with 'Fast and Furious' rifles gunned down Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona in December of 2010 near the Mexican border. Agent Dodson says Department of Justice officials frantically worked to cover up the killers’ links to weapons trafficked as part of the secret federal case. He agreed to an interview with me for CBS News in March of 2011.
Sharyl (2011): Dodson’s job is to stop gun trafficking across the border. Instead, he says he was ordered to sit by and watch it happen. Investigators call the tactic letting guns “walk.” Dodson’s bosses say that never happened. Now, he’s risking his job to go public.
John Dodson (2011): I’m boots on the ground here in Phoenix, telling you we’ve been doing it every day since I’ve been here,” he said. “Here I am. Tell me I didn’t do the things I did. Tell me you didn’t order me to do the things I did. Tell me it didn’t happen. Now you have a name on it. You have a face to put with it. Here I am. Someone now, tell me it didn’t happen.”
Sharyl: When you stepped forward, what did you think and hope would happen?
John Dodson: When I stepped forward, I thought it would all come to a screeching halt, and that the case would be shut down the policy would be abandoned and it would pretty much be over with very very quickly as soon as word got to the right people. I was very surprised to learn otherwise.
Sharyl: What did happen?
John Dodson: Well, originally the Department of Justice issued what was a letter denying the allegation, categorically denying the allegations. And from that point on, there was a congressional hearing and obstruction and document hiding and still continuing to deny that there was any nexus between the investigative strategy and Agent Terry's death.
Sharyl: The supposed goal of the government’s gunwalking was to see where the weapons ended up and make a big case that took down Mexican cartel leaders. That never happened. Instead, the guns were used in crimes on both sides of the border. I identified a dozen other federal cases in which agents allegedly allowed guns to 'walk' in places like Florida, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, with names like 'Too Hot To Handle', 'Wide Receiver' and 'Castaway.'
Sharyl: In a bipartisan vote in 2012, the House of Representatives held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents in the Fast and Furious case. President Obama blocked Congress from getting the documents by using executive privilege the one and only time of his presidency. 80,000 pages were later released under a court challenge.
At a little publicized hearing earlier this month, House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz said Congress is still trying to convince the Justice Department to hand over outstanding documents.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz: Litigation is ongoing as the Department of Justice continues its unprecedented stonewalling of Congress and the Terry family and I’m sorry to report under the Trump admin this has not change. This has not changed.
Sharyl: Dodson testified at the hearing, alongside Brian Terry’s mother, looking back at his decision to blow the whistle.
John Dodson: That decision, the single act of standing up and saying ‘what we are doing is wrong’ instantly took my standing from being an agent of the government to an enemy of the state.
Sharyl: Members of both parties, including Republican Trey Gowdy, said they still don’t think they have all the answers as to what was really behind 'Fast and Furious.'
Rep. Trey Gowdy: I’m just struggling to understand how this ever could have turned out any other way. As soon as the gun leaves the parking lot, unless you’re maintaining constant surveillance, then you’ve lost the gun. And then if it crosses the border, God knows what you’re gonna do with it. And then when you learn they didn’t even let our Mexican counterparts in law enforcement know what was going on. This is the most imminently predictable tragedy that I’ve been connected with since I’ve been in Congress. It could not have turned out any other way.
Sharyl: What are some of the outstanding questions today?
John Dodson: I think that some of them, and they all might not pertain directly to the Terry family, is the amount of homicides or murders that have been caused by the the firearms that we allowed to be trafficked, what the ultimate cost of this strategy was.
Sharyl: Although the government won’t release information delineating the crimes that have been committed by criminals using guns trafficked during 'Fast and Furious,' I’ve found evidence of at least 43 killings including: two U.S. federal agents, 3 Mexican police, and a terrorist torture kidnaping and murder in Mexico.
Sharyl: Do you think people are still in place in government who are part of what you call the obstruction or the cover-up?
John Dodson: I think they are. I think maybe not in the same exact positions. I think many of them moved around. But there is still a, a good portion of that system, that mechanism, that is still in place.
Sharyl: It sounds like your takeaway is that the public should understand it holds the power and use it.
John Dodson: Yes, the public does hold the power. But if we don't ask the questions, if we don't hold people accountable, if we don't get the explanations that we deserve and the answers that are entitled to us, then we don't. We give those reins of power away. We're subjected to a bureaucracy that is so big and so uncontrollable that it answers only to itself, no longer to us.
Sharyl: In case you’re wondering, Dodson still works at ATF today, though he says he’s been marginalized, retaliated against, and transferred around eleven times in six years.
Sharyl: Are you sorry you blew the whistle?
John Dodson: No. No, not at all. It was something that I thought I had to do, something I was supposed to do. So, how can you be sorry about that?