INVESTIGATION: How did Biden get a ghost gun to the White House? (Part 1)
It's against law in D.C. to possess the frame or receiver
This story was updated with on-the-record responses from the ATF spokeswoman at the end.
Note to readers: I’ve heard from some of you that you like to read the behind-the-scenes steps of investigative reporting. So I’m going to give you more of that. Now, instead of working on an investigation for weeks or months and then giving you my final report, I’m going to walk you through the steps I take along the way.
As with all reporting, we never know where the questions take us. Most tips we get turn out not to be newsworthy. I will only report when I have gotten far enough to know there is a legitimate story that needs more investigating. I’d love your feedback, suggestions, and ideas along the way….
President Biden showed off a ghost gun kit at the White House on April 11 for his new regulations for these pieces of metal. Ghost guns are illegal to possess in the District of Columbia. While the White House is federal property, how did the kit get into the president's hands?
I first called the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) media affairs to ask if they were involved. I assumed the D.C. police had something to do with acquiring and transporting the gun because they have done it for politicians in the past.
You may remember my investigation in 2013 into the “assault weapon” guns that Sen. Dianne Feinstein showed off at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
My reporting is still online. The first story in January was this: Did Dianne Feinstein pull a David Gregory? When no one would tell me the answer to that question, I used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to uncover the truth.
The final story in the investigation in October was: D.C. police chief covers up giving Dianne Feinstein illegal ‘assault weapons’.
On Tuesday last week, MPD Officer Carew answered the phone. I asked if the police were involved with the ghost gun kit. He told me that MPD did not have anything to do with it.
He reminded me that Pres. Biden was on federal property. I asked if the police helped transport the gun through the District. Carew said no. He told me to call the Secret Service because that is their ballpark.
U.S. Secret Service
Next, I called the Secret Service media line and got voicemail. I followed up with an email on Tuesday, here:
Pres. Biden had what appeared to be an unfinished frame and receiver at a White House event yesterday. How did the White House transport those pieces to federal property?
I spoke to MPD and was told they didn't do it and said to ask Secret Service.
No one responded.
I called the White House press office and was told to put my request in an email. Here’s what I sent on April 12:
Pres. Biden had what appeared to be an unfinished frame and receiver at the Rose Garden event yesterday. If those were real parts, it violates DC code 23-125.
How did the White House coordinate transfer of these illegal gun parts?
How do you respond to the public saying the president broke DC laws?
No one has answered. I sent the email again before publishing this story. Still no response.
I didn’t have a story until I could find out if the White House or Secret Service had a good explanation of how the gun kit was legally transported. It’s against the law to even possess those metal parts of the gun— the frame or reciever. You can’t even register them with the police like regular guns. (I uploaded the 2020 law at the bottom.)
Secret Service again
I had an idea on Easter that the Secret Service office was probably bare bones, so I might catch a lower-level staff who would give me an answer.
To my surprise, the head of Secret Service communications, Anthony Guglielmi, replied himself. I knew his name from trying to get answers out of the Baltimore Police Department when he worked there. He replied to my questions:
To maintain the highest levels of operational integrity, we do not comment on protective methods or movements.
What he wrote is the way for a press spokesman to acknowledge receipt, not say “no comment” but still not answer the reporter’s questions. I wrote back:
Thank you for responding. I'm not asking about protective methods or movements. My readers keep asking how a ghost gun kit that is illegal to possess in DC was transported to the White House property.
MPD said they didn't do it and said only Secret Service could do a transfer of the kit through the District to the federal White House property.
So can you tell me how the gun kit was transported? It was not operational, so it would not be a security issue to share that public information.
Guglielmi didn’t respond to my follow-up questions. (He was friendly about loving working for Baltimore police.)
Gun manufacturers and dealers
Next, I wondered if I could get answers from the company that sold the gun kit. I called Mark Oliva who runs public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which is the trade association for gun manufacturers and dealers.
Oliva said they didn’t know how the gun kit landed at the White House. But he was clear that I am onto something.
“The president ignored District of Columbia laws to appease their gun-control supporters and bring that kit to the White House. Pres. Biden is showing that he can break the laws, and so can anyone else. ” Oliva said. I asked if I could put that on the record. He said sure.
I asked Oliva to walk me through how gun kits are bought and ordered to figure out if there was some way that the White House did it legally. What if they ordered it from a dealer and had it mailed directly to 1600 Pennsylvania?
“At the end of the day, it had to come through the fence,” he said. “Someone had to get it through the checkpoints.”
FOIA Secret Service
Now, since the White House refuses to answer my questions, I need leverage to get this information. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply to the White House -- which is frustrating.
But the Secret Service is subject to the law, so I decided to write a public information request.
I’ve written so many FOIA over the years that it is pretty quick to whip off a new one. I put the letter at the bottom for you to read but this is the key part:
I am requesting that I be provided a copy of the following records:
All documents, emails or phone conversations related to planning to have a ghost gun kit for the event with President Biden at the White House on April 11, 2022.
All documents, emails or phone conversations related to acquiring or borrowing or purchasing a ghost gun kit for President Biden to possess at the White House.
All documents, emails or phone conversations related to transporting (shipping, carrying, driving) the ghost gun kit through the District of Columbia to the federal property of the White House
The federal FOIA is terrible compared to most states and cities. There is no way to do it electronically. There’s an email to the Secret Service FOIA office, but it isn’t considered official until it is received by the postal service.
I wrote the letter and added the required copy of my driver’s license, along with a picture of the gun kit from the White House lawn. The photo was not required, but I wanted to make it as clear as possible that the first non-response from Secret Service was not enough for public records.
The government has 20 business days after the letter is received to decide if it will respond to my FOIA. There’s no time frame for how long they can put off handing over the information. But to help move it along, I wrote that I will pay fees up to $100 without being asked. More than that, they will have to contact me.
I dread going to the post office since the pandemic began because the lines are so long, but I really wanted to send the letter certified and return receipt to be sure the start date could be tracked. I gave the letter over the counter to Catherine on April 18.
The tracking shows it is still in transit as of April 20. Whenever it gets to the FOIA office, I’ll mark on my calendar the 20-workday mark to ask for a response.
I hope that publishing this story pushes the White House or Secret Service or the seller of the gun kit to tell me how this happened.
But I suspect it will do nothing but make them clam up and try to cover their tracks. That is what happened when I asked these same questions to the Senate in 2013 about Feinstein’s illegal guns. I know this because when they finally turned over the FOIA, I found emails from DC Police Chief Lanier complaining about my asking questions.
The government must know that they are accountable to the public, which needs reporters to dig for the truth. Investigative journalism is one tool to prevent a tyrannical government. Another is the Second Amendment right to own a gun.
Update 4/20 PM— ATF
Paid subscribers can read the emails and text from ATF below. Free subscribers can jump ahead to part two of the investigation here.