After more than a year of silence, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Justice has finally released its report on Operation Fast and Furious, the gunwalking scandal that resulted in some 2,000 guns being allowed to flow into the hands of Mexican criminals. While the report is more critical than some expected, matching closely the conclusions reached in the report of the House Government Oversight Committee, it falls short of pointing an accusatory finger at Attorney General Eric Holder or his boss.
According to the OIG report, the highest level of responsibility for Fast and Furious was the deputy assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division, Jason Weinstein. It suggests that his failing was in not recognizing the flaws in the program or taking action to stop it. Above Weinstein, the report suggests less critical failings on the part of two of Holder's closest deputies, Gary Grindler and Lanny Breuer. Even though documents show that Grindler received at least one detailed briefing on Fast and Furious, and Breuer was caught lying to Congress, and then lying again about his lies, the OIG report only criticized them for failing to tell Holder about a Bush-era gunwalking program called Wide Receiver.
The OIG report lays most of the blame for Fast and Furious at the feet of supervisors in the Phoenix offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. attorney for Arizona.
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Concurrent with release of the report, the DOJ announced the resignation of Weinstein and the retirement of the former acting director of ATF, Ken Melson. The U.S. attorney for Arizona during the operation, Dennis Burke, resigned earlier this year, followed by ATF Deputy Director for Field Operations William Hoover. Other resignations are likely to be forthcoming, but there has been no serious discussion yet of any criminal charges or loss of government pensions. One of the top ATF officials implicated in the report, William McMahon, supervised western field operations and is described in the report as lying to Weinstein about Fast and Furious. When the Fast and Furious story broke, McMahon was, ironically, reassigned to head the ATF office of professional responsibility. For a little more irony, McMahon was then granted paid leave for six months before his scheduled early retirement to take a 6-figure, private-sector job with JP Morgan-Chase Financial – a company that does a lot of business with the government and was a major contributor to the 2008 Obama campaign.
The OIG report on Operation Fast and Furious is over 500 pages long, and it's going to take some time to analyze all of it. More information is coming out every day, and since the OIG had access to many documents that were withheld from Congress, it is likely that some interesting tidbits will be revealed upon close analysis.
One of the most telling features of the report, though, is the way the OIG handled charges that there was White House involvement in the operation. Emails have already proven that the Phoenix ATF bureau chief, Bill Newell, was reporting information about Fast and Furious to a national security adviser in the White House named Kevin O'Reilly. Shortly after the F&F story broke, O'Reilly was transferred to the State Department and sent on assignment to Afghanistan where he was "unavailable" to be questioned by congressional investigators – even over the phone. Suspicious as that seems, the only mention of O'Reilly in the OIG report was to state that their investigators were unable to get more information about this aspect of the story because O'Reilly declined to be interviewed.
The report ignores or glosses over email and documentary evidence that Holder, Breuer and Grindler all received information about the illegal operation while it was ongoing, and that ATF and DOJ officials were actively collecting data from Fast and Furious to use in support of a regulatory move to require gun dealers in border states to collect and report additional information about some of their customers.
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Clear proof that Breuer lied to Congress and to OIG investigators was likewise ignored. Breuer admitted in congressional testimony that he was aware that the tactic of gunwalking had been used, but denied any involvement in drafting a letter to Congress which falsely declared that no division of the DOJ had ever approved of or engaged in gunwalking. The letter was "withdrawn" several months later with the claim that DOJ had written it in good faith, relying on information supplied by ATF. Emails subsequently turned up showing that Breuer had indeed reviewed the letter and submitted editing suggestions prior to it being sent to Congress.
The OIG report identified 18 ATF and DOJ officials for criticism and possible punitive action, but places no blame for the operation on pressure from high-level DOJ and administration officials, including the OIG itself, for ATF to generate arrests of trafficking king-pins, not just foot soldiers. A scathing OIG report on ATF's failures in that area was the focus of a meeting of the attorney general's Southwest Border Strategy Group, which appears to be where the whole idea for Fast and Furious was born. The ill-conceived operation began shortly thereafter and didn't stop until Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered with F&F guns.
Release of the OIG report is likely to generate more questions than it answers, and we will continue to dig for those answers and to demand that everyone involved be held accountable.