The Department of Justice’s inspector general released a long-awaited report on the Operation Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal this week. It marked the culmination of a 19-month investigation into the operation, which allowed as many as 2,000 firearms to “walk” into Mexico, where they were handed off to drug cartels.
The operation, overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, rocketed into the public eye when some of those guns were found near the body of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, killed in the line of duty near the Mexican border in Arizona.
Both congressional Republicans, who have doggedly pursued allegations of wrongdoing at the top echelons of the Justice Department, and administration officials have claimed it vindicates their varying accounts of the scandal.
While Attorney General Eric Holder is mostly exonerated of responsibility for the scandal — the report backs up his claim that he did not know about the operation until after it ceased — his apparent lack of knowledge is troubling in itself, as Heritage’s John Malcolm, a former official in DOJ’s criminal division, notes in a new report:
It is shocking to conceive that the Attorney General of the United States was not made aware of the tactics used in an operation that lasted for months and resulted in the deaths of a federal agent and … approximately 300 Mexicans. At the very least, assuming this is true, the Attorney General was ill-served by some of his most trusted advisers, as well as by some career prosecutors in Phoenix. The report … urges Holder to “determine whether discipline or other administrative action … is appropriate.” Some of these individuals should now be disciplined, if not fired.
The inspector general’s report is nearly 500 pages long, so we’ve pulled out the top five revelations that you need to know:
1. The report singles out top Department of Justice officials for wrongdoing.
“We concluded that the Attorney General’s Deputy Chief of Staff, the Acting Deputy Attorney General, and the leadership of the Criminal Division failed to alert the Attorney General to significant information about or flaws in those investigations,” the report states.
The report faults 14 officials with various offenses, most for failing to adequately investigate the possibility that inappropriate tactics were being used. Since the report’s release, acting ATF director Kenneth Melson and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein have resigned.
2. The report appears to contradict sworn testimony by Attorney General Eric Holder.
“I’ve looked at these affidavits,” Holder told Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ) in June, referring to documents detailing ATF wiretap applications. “There’s nothing in those affidavits as I’ve reviewed them that indicates gunwalking was allowed.”
Citing the inspector general’s report, Quayle claims Holder “lied … to my face” with that statement. The report claims those affidavits “described specific incidents that would suggest to a prosecutor who was focused on the question of investigative tactics that ATF was employing a strategy of not interdicting weapons or arresting known straw purchasers.”
While the report does not claim that Holder misled Congress, it does say that those affidavits suggested gunwalking took place. Holder says he read those affidavits, and that they suggested no such thing. If the inspector general is correct, both claims cannot be true — either Holder did not review the affidavits, or he was not truthful about their contents.
3. The report faults top Justice Department leadership with failing to adequately respond to the murder of an American border patrol agent.
On December 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a firefight with cartel operatives near the Mexican border in Arizona. Fast and Furious firearms were found at the scene.
Top Justice Department officials, including Holder’s chief of staff, Gary Grindler, failed to take proper action upon realizing the connection between the incident and ATF’s gunwalking operation, the inspector general states.
Neither the [Office of the Attorney General] or [Office of the Deputy Attorney General] took appropriate action after learning that firearms found at the scene [of the Terry murder] were connected to the Operation. We believe that an aggressive response to the information was required, including prompt notification of the Attorney General and appropriate inquiry of ATF and the US Attorney’s Office. However, we found that senior officials who were aware of this information, including Grindler, took no action whatsoever.
4. The White House refused to disclose any internal communications to the inspector general.
“The White House did not produce to us any internal White House communications,” the report states, “noting that ‘the White House is beyond the purview of the Inspector General’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Department of Justice programs and personnel.’”
Inspector General Michael Horowitz was not able to investigative White House communications with ATF regarding Fast and Furious. He told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that his office “did not get internal communications from the White House, and [then-White House National Security official Kevin] 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.”
5. The report fails to consider evidence that a top DOJ official knew the department misled Congress.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who has led the Senate side of the Fast and Furious investigation, claims that the inspector general made a “factual error” in concluding that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the department’s criminal division, was for the most part uninvolved in the crafting of a February 4, 2011, letter to Congress denying any knowledge of gunwalking tactics. DOJ later withdrew that letter when internal documents showed that officials had misled Congress about their knowledge of those tactics.
“We found that Breuer had no direct involvement in drafting, editing, or approving the Department’s inaccurate February 4 letter to Sen. Grassley,” the inspector general found. But internal DOJ emails reveal that Breuer did see the February letter before it was sent to Congress, and in fact personally signed off on a draft. “Great work, as usual,” he wrote to one of the letter’s authors.
Why this matters
Operation Fast and Furious is by far the most serious scandal to rock the Justice Department. But there are other troubling developments that have happened on Holder’s watch. They include the misguided lawsuits against Texas and South Carolina over voter ID laws, an ongoing investigation of Pennsylvania’s statute, and legal campaigns mounted against states attempting to secure their borders from illegal immigration.
Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky, who worked at the Justice Department as counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, last year documented in an 11-part series the politicized hiring at the Department of Justice – a liberal litmus test for all new career attorneys. It exposed the crass political agenda of Holder and his deputies. Now, the Fast and Furious report raises even more concerns about Holder’s leadership and judgment.
“For veterans of the department, it is another illustration of how low the professionalism and competence of a once-great law-enforcement agency has fallen,” von Spakovsky writes for National Review Online. “And it shows just how dangerous DOJ can be when its power is misused and abused.
>> Today at noon ET, Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky and author John Fund will speak about their new book, “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.” It debunks the liberal myths about voter fraud. Watch it live on Heritage.org.