Obama Administration Cited for Failures in Fast & Furious Scandal

By Jerry Seper and Chuck Neubauer, The Washington Times
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Justice  Department’s Office of Inspector General on Wednesday   blamed the failure  of the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation on a   series of “misguided  strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and   management failures” that  permeated the Bureau  of Alcohol, Tobacco,   Firearms and Explosives‘ Washington, D.C.,  headquarters and Phoenix   field office, and said “questionable judgments” by Justice Department   officials in  Washington marred the department’s response to  Capitol Hill   inquiries.

The long-anticipated 471-page report also found no  evidence that  Attorney  General Eric H. Holder Jr. knew of the  operation  prior to its  public unraveling in January 2011. The investigation  had  come to light  after two AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles purchased  as  a part of  Fast and Furious were found at the scene of the killing  nearly two  years  ago of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. The report  recommended that 14   department employees be reviewed for possible  sanctions or other  disciplinary  actions.

The report also said  Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary  Grindler, Mr.  Holder’s chief of   staff, received a briefing about Fast and Furious in  March 2010, but  that the  briefing “failed to alert Grindler to  problems  in the  investigation.” The report said Mr.  Grindler learned three days  after  the Dec. 14, 2010, death of Border  Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry of  the  link  between weapons found at the murder scene and Furious but did  not  tell Mr. Holder. It said he should of “informed  the attorney general  as  well as made an appropriate inquiry of ATF  or the U.S.  attorney’s   office about the connection.”

Deputy Assistant Attorney General  Jason  Weinstein, who reviewed Fast and  Furious wiretap applications,  resigned  Wednesday in the wake of the  report, which said he should have  asked more  questions about Fast and  Furious given his knowledge of a  similar 2006 program  known as  “Operation Wide Receiver.” Former Acting  ATF Director Kenneth  Melson,  named in the report as failing to maintain  “appropriate oversite” of  Fast and Furious, announced his retirement  Wednesday effective   immediately.

According to the report, both  Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver were  “seriously flawed and  supervised irresponsibly” by ATF’s Phoenix field  division and the U.S.  attorney’s office in Arizona, “most significantly  in their failure to   adequately consider the risk to the public safety in  the United States  and Mexico.” It said both investigations sought to   identify the higher  reaches of firearms trafficking networks by  deferring any  overt law  enforcement action against the individual straw  buyers — such as  making  arrests or seizing firearms — even when there  was sufficient evidence   to do so.

“The risk to public safety was immediately evident in  both  investigations,” the report said. “Almost from the outset of each  case,  ATF agents learned that the purchases were financed by  violent  Mexican  drug trafficking organizations and that the firearms were   destined for  Mexico.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican   and chairman of the House  Oversight and Government Reform Committee,  which investigated Fast and   Furious, said Wednesday the report  confirmed findings by Congress  of a  “near total disregard for public  safety in Operation Fast and Furious   contrary to the denials of the  attorney general and his political  defenders.” Mr. Issa said the report  noted that  information in wiretap  applications approved by senior  Justice  Department officials in  Washington “did contain red flags  showing reckless  tactics” and they  fault Mr. Holder’s  inner circle for  their conduct.

Inspector General Michael E.  Horowitz is scheduled to testify Thursday to the committee  on the findings of his investigation.

Mr.  Holder said Wednesday the  report’s key conclusions are “consistent”   with what he and other Justice  Department officials have said for many   months now: The inappropriate  strategy and tactics employed were   field-driven and date back to 2006; the  leadership of the department did   not  know about or authorize the use of the flawed strategy and  tactics;  and the department’s leadership  did not attempt to cover up  information  or mislead Congress about it.”

“I want to assure the  American people that I, and my colleagues at the  department, will  continue to focus on  our mission of protecting their  rights and their  security, and doing so in a  manner that is consistent  with the high  standards of the Department  of Justice,” he said.

The report  identified persons ranging from field agents and prosecutors  in  Phoenix  and Tucson to senior ATF officials in  Washington who “bore a  share of  responsibility” for ATF’s failures in both Fast and Furious and  Wide   Receiver to interdict firearms illegally bound for Mexico, and for   pursuing “this risky strategy  without adequately taking into account   the significant danger to public safety  that it created.”

“We  operated with complete and total independence in our search for the    truth, and the decision about what to cover in this report and the   conclusions  we reached were made solely by me and my office,” Mr.   Horowitz said. “I am pleased that we are able to put forward a full and    complete recitation of the facts that we found, and the conclusions  that  we  reached, with minimal redactions by the department to our  report.”

He also said the Obama administration  made no redactions  for executive  privilege, even though the report evaluates  in detail and  reaches  conclusions about the department’s  actions in responding to  Congress,  adding that  Justice has agreed to seek court authorization to  unredact  as much of the  wiretap information as possible.

According to the report, Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver were  “seriously  flawed and supervisedirresponsibly”  by ATF’s Phoenix  field  division and the U.S.  attorney’s Office, “most  significantly in their  failure to adequately  consider the risk to the  public safety in the  United States and Mexico.” It said both operations  sought to identify  the higher reaches of firearms  trafficking networks  by deferring any  overt law enforcement action against the  straw buyers  — such as making  arrests or seizing firearms — even when there  was  sufficient evidence to  do so.

“The risk to public safety was  immediately evident in both  investigations,” the report said. “Almost  from the outset of each case,  ATF agents learned that the purchases  were financed by  violent Mexican  drug trafficking organizations and  that the firearms were  destined for  Mexico.”

But the report said  investigators found that no one responsible for the   operations at  either the ATF Phoenix field division  or the U.S.   attorney’s office  raised a serious question or concern about the   government not taking  earlier measures to disrupt a trafficking  operation that  continued to  purchase firearms with impunity for many  months. It said  investigators  did not find persuasive evidence that any  supervisor in Phoenix,  at  either the U.S.  attorney’s office or ATF,  raised serious  questions or  concerns about the risk to public safety  posed by the continuing   firearms purchases or by the delay in arresting  persons who were  engaging in  the trafficking.

The report said that failure  reflected a “significant lack of oversight  and  urgency” by both ATF and  the U.S.  attorney’s office, and a  “disregard by both” for the safety  of persons in  the United States and  Mexico.

According to the  report, Mr. Holder  was notified immediately of the  Terry death, but was  not told about the  connection between firearms  found at the scene and  Fast and Furious. It said  he learned of the  connection sometime in  2011, after he received a letter from Sen. Chuck  Grassley, Iowa  Republican,  asking about the Terry death.

“Had the department’s  senior  leadership taken immediate action after  learning that weapons  found at the  scene of a federal law enforcement  agent’s murder were  linked to a straw  purchaser in an ATF firearms  trafficking   investigation, the department  likely would have gathered  information  about Operation Fast and Furious well  before it received the  inquiry  from Sen.  Grassley about the very same issue in late January  2011.  The  Department,  however, did not do so,” the report said.

The report  said Mr. Grindler and former  Deputy Chief of Staff  Monty  Wilkinson  should have told Mr.  Holder about the connection between Fast  and  Furious and the Terry  shooting. It also singled out Assistant  Attorney  General Lanny Breuer, who  heads the Justice Department’s   criminal  division, for possible disciplinary action for failing to alert  Mr.  Holder or his deputy when he learned  in April 2010 that ATF had  allowed  guns to walk in  Wide Receiver.

In addition, the report said Mr.   Weinstein should have asked more  questions about Fast and Furious given   his knowledge of Wide Receiver  when he was reviewing Fast and Furious  wiretap  applications. Both Mr.  Breuer and Mr.  Weinstein were criticized  for failing to draw a  connection between the  allegations in Mr.  Grassley’s letters and  their  knowledge of gun walking in Wide Receiver.

In  his resignation letter posted on his lawyer’s website, Mr.  Weinstein   said he found it “personally painful” to read the report’s “completely   false conclusion” that he knew about and failed to act on Fast and   Furious guns being allowed to walk to Mexico. He  said he had been   assured by the ATF and prosecutors  in Arizona that guns were not being   transported south of the border.

According to the report, a  poorly executed information gathering and   drafting process, as well as  questionable judgments by department  officials,  contributed to  Justice’s inclusion of inaccurate information  in its Feb. 4  response  letter to Mr. Grassley. It said  that in preparing  the letter,  department officials relied on information  provided by  senior officials  that was not accurate, primarily from U.S.  Attorney  Dennis Burke, ATF  Acting Director Kenneth  Melson and his deputy, William  Hoover. It said  they failed to exercise “appropriate oversight of the  investigation,  and to some extent were  themselves receiving incorrect or  incomplete  information from their  subordinates.”

Mr. Holder said officials  within ATF and the U.S.  attorney’s office in  Arizona identified in the  report as having been  responsible for  designing, implementing or  supervising Fast and Furious have  been  “referred to the appropriate  entities for review and consideration of   potential personnel actions.”  He declined to elaborate.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the  committee’s  ranking Democrat,  said the report “debunks many of the  extreme allegations  made by  Republicans,” instead confirming  conclusions reached in a minority   report issued nearly a year ago that  said neither the Mr.  Holder nor  senior Justice  Department officials  authorized or approved of gunwalking  in Fast and  Furious, that  gunwalking started under the Bush  administration in 2006, and  that ATF  agents in Phoenix and the U.S.  attorney’s office in Arizona shared  responsibility for “misguided   operations spanning five years.”

Mr.  Grassley said the report confirmed  that Fast and Furious was the   “height of irresponsibility on the part of a  number of people from the   ATF Phoenix field office  all the way up to the Justice  Department   headquarters.” He said he was “glad” Mr.  Horowitz was joining with him   and Mr.  Issa in urging the Justice  Department to unseal Fast and Furious   wiretap applications “so the  American people can read them and make up   their own minds.”

ATF shut down Fast and Furious after two AK-47   semi-automatic assault  rifles purchased by straw buyers from a gun  shop in  Glendale, Ariz.,  were found near Terry’s  body. The agent had  been killed during a  shootout with Mexican drug smugglers  just north of  the U.S.-Mexico  border, south of  Tucson. The killing led to public  testimony by ATF   agents opposed to the operation, who said more than  2,000 weapons had  been  walked to drug smugglers in Mexico, about 1,400   of which are still  unaccounted for.

 

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