Darrell Issa Won’t Halt ‘Fast and Furious’ Probe
At 471 pages – based on 100,000 documents and more than 130 interviews – the highly critical Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on the “Fast and Furious” scandal is thorough.
But that doesn’t mean the issue is finished on Capitol Hill.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is vowing to continue pursuing Attorney General Eric Holder’s contempt of Congress citation in court and said the report is all the more reason to continue his own probe with new zeal.
Issa will “absolutely” continue pursuing the civil lawsuit attempting to compel Holder to hand over more documents about the gun-running investigation, spokesman Frederick Hill said.
Hill said the findings of the IG report and some of its loose ends “only enhances the importance of the House moving forward in its civil action against President [Barack Obama’s] flawed claim of executive privilege.”
The same categories of documents being sought in the suit, which were at the heart of the contempt citation, were reviewed by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Obama did not assert executive privilege to prevent him from obtaining the documents.
The report by Horowitz ripped the Fast and Furious operation as “seriously flawed” and said agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did not consider public safety as they allowed about 2,000 firearms, many of them high-powered assault rifles, to make their way to Mexican drug cartels as part of the operation.
In a major black eye for the Obama administration, the IG found that senior DOJ officials ignored key warning signs that should have alerted them that such dangerous tactics were being used.
In Fast and Furious, ATF agents allowed firearms to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.
The tactic, which was intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes, has been roundly condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, one of 14 officials referred for administrative discipline by Horowitz, resigned in the wake of the report, and discipline proceedings were launched against other unnamed officials.
The report said Weinstein was the most senior official who had information that should have raised red flags about Fast and Furious, including similarly flawed tactics used on a smaller scale in a previous operation, called “Wide Receiver,” begun during George W. Bush’s administration. When Weinstein learned of the improper tactics in Wide Receiver, rather than admonish the ATF, he focused “instead on how to avoid negative press,” the report said.
Kenneth Melson, the acting ATF director during the operation, also resigned. He had been reassigned to another position.
The report largely spared Holder from personal blame, saying he did not authorize the tactics used and did not know about allegations that guns had “walked” until after the DOJ broadly denied that tactic was used in a February letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
“I hope today’s report acts as a reminder of the dangers of adopting as fact unsubstantiated conclusions before an investigation of the circumstances is completed,” Holder said in a statement.
But the report strongly criticized other senior officials, including Lanny Breuer, head of the department’s criminal division.
Breuer, the report said, should have alerted Holder or his second-in-
command when he learned guns had walked in Wide Receiver.
Regarding the Feb. 4 letter to Grassley that denied guns had “walked” in Fast and Furious, the report said several senior officials claimed to the letter’s drafters that such tactics had not been used, even though they had been presented with information that should have caused concern.
In particular, William Hoover, the former second-ranking ATF official, and former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke both adamantly denied to DOJ colleagues that guns had walked when both had considerable knowledge about the operation, the report said.
Evidence “strongly suggests” that Burke provided information he knew was false to colleagues, which the report said was “irresponsible.”
The report was even more critical of a letter sent on May 2, 2011, that reiterated the broad denial even as more information about the operation became public and was learned internally at the DOJ.
By then, senior officials “knew or should have known” that the broad denial was false,” the report said.
The DOJ ultimately rescinded the February letter 11 months after it was sent, conceding it contained inaccurate information.
For their part, Congressional Democrats seized on findings in the report showing that some of the more flamboyant allegations made in relation to Fast and Furious were not true.
“The IG’s comprehensive report debunks many of the extreme allegations made by Republicans and confirms many of the conclusions reached in a report I issued nearly a year ago,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the Oversight panel.