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Sometimes, as the saying goes, the truth really is stranger than fiction. There may have been some wild plotlines on “Walker: Texas Ranger,” but nothing that compares to the scandal surrounding the operation known as “Fast & Furious” – the BATFE operation that resulted in the loss of a distinguished Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry.

“Fast & Furious” involved the “walking” of guns into Mexico – an artful term for gun smuggling that was clearly illegal but nonetheless encouraged.  Most of these guns turned up in the hands of drug dealers and known criminals. The ostensible goal of the ATF was to catch these cartel members red-handed with the smuggled guns during crimes in Mexico. Two of the guns that were “walked” into Mexico were found at the crime scene of the killing of agent Terry, who died in a firefight with drug cartel henchmen.

That was the point where some of the individual agents went into open rebellion. Having been hectored and hounded by their management into repeatedly letting guns fall into the hands of criminals – in defiance of all their training and plain common sense – many of the rank-and-file agents were already brewing up a mutiny.  But the death of Terry proved a turning point, one that had been tragically prophesied by one of the gun dealers who had been conscripted into this scheme – over his objections and against his better judgment. These brave agents risked their careers by turning whistleblower and carrying news of this disaster to Congress. In the Senate, they found a receptive audience in Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who began demanding answers. In the House, they found Rep. Darrell Issa, whose role as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was perfectly positioned to begin a more formal inquiry.

The congressional investigation into “Fast & Furious” has been ongoing for more than a year, but it was stonewalled by Attorney General Eric Holder, who instead opened an internal investigation by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, or OIG. Tens of thousands of internal Justice Department documents supplied to the Inspector General were withheld from Congress, despite being requested in a lawful subpoena issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. This act of stubborn defiance resulted in Eric Holder becoming the first attorney general to be voted in contempt of a congressional subpoena.  Now, Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report has finally been released, but it leaves some critical questions unanswered.

Press accounts surrounding the release of the report had a routine flavor that was otherworldly in light of the report’s contents. The Los Angeles Times reported, “The Justice Department‘s internal watchdog on Wednesday faulted the agency for misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures during a bungled gun-trafficking probe in Arizona that resulted in hundreds of weapons turning up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico.” Oh, is that all?

Thousands of guns “walked” into Mexico are still on the loose. Where are they, and how many are out there? Does the U.S. government have a plan to recapture them, or will we simply spend years wondering how many more victims they are being used to kill? And who will make sure that Congress and the public are made aware if and when these guns surface at more crime scenes here in the U.S.?

The report outlines the basics of “who knew what when” and recommends potential sanctions for no fewer than 14 government employees. Note that 14 is also the precise number of criminals who have pleaded guilty under this operation, according to AP. But the report doesn’t delve into potential motivations. There may be deeper motives for allowing these guns to walk into Mexico that remain unaccounted for. Is it possible that allowing an infusion of firearms to go into Mexico was intended to provoke an explosion of gun violence, thus prompting domestic politicians to call for sweeping new restrictions on our rights? The report is silent on this count.

Agent Brian Terry is the most prominent victim of this horribly botched operation, and his family members are the unsung heroes here. They have been patiently waiting for answers for almost two years now. Brian Terry only wanted to do his job and get home for the holidays. Dubbed “Superman” by colleagues and friends, he is the face of “Fast & Furious.” Justice must be properly served, or else his valiant service and ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty will be dishonored.

Even with its omissions, the OIG report is a chilling indictment of a collapse in leadership at the highest levels of federal law enforcement. There may be 14 staffers who take the fall, but it’s clear that their political appointee superiors were either asleep at the switch, or willing to jeopardize public safety to push an agenda that remains undisclosed. Can anyone possibly need any more reasons to register to vote?

The bottom line is that the American people deserve answers that go well beyond the OIG report.   Congress needs to proceed with a comprehensive investigation, and it must have the unfettered cooperation and access that the Department of Justice has thus far withheld. And the Department of Justice is clearly in need of new leadership. Let’s give it to them.

 

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