The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) inspector general has come out with a report about Operation Fast and Furious, an ill-conceived gun-smuggling investigation to identify the cartel leaders behind a firearms trafficking network that resulted in more than 2,000 high-powered weapons ending up in the hands of dangerous thugs.
Two of these weapons were used in the ambush that resulted in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The report also covers a predecessor investigation named Operation Wide Receiver, another botched operation that should have led sensible people to conclude that initiating another gun-walking operation would be a fool’s errand.
The 471-page report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz (full disclosure: I worked with Horowitz in the Criminal Division at DOJ from mid-2001 until 2002 when I was a deputy assistant attorney general and he was chief of staff) is quite the showstopper. The report criticizes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix, and senior DOJ officials for their roles.
The report cites “a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment, and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” It “identified individuals ranging from line agents and prosecutors in Phoenix and Tucson to senior ATF officials in Washington, D.C., who bore a share of responsibility for ATF’s knowing failure in both these operations to interdict firearms illegally destined for Mexico, and for doing so without adequately taking into account the danger to public safety that flowed from this risky strategy, [and]…also found failures by Department officials related to these matters, including failing to respond accurately to a Congressional inquiry about them.”
The report clears Attorney General Eric Holder of personal knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious. Although Holder got weekly reports that mentioned the operation, his top assistants, including “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.”
According to the report, Holder did not become aware of these tactics until three weeks after Congress had been falsely informed in a February 4, 2011, letter that guns were not knowingly allowed to “walk” into Mexico, at which point he directed the IG to investigate the matter.
It is shocking to conceive that the Attorney General was not made aware of the tactics used in an operation that lasted for months and resulted in the deaths of approximately 300 Mexicans and a federal agent. Assuming it’s true, Holder was ill-served by his most trusted advisors and career prosecutors in Phoenix, some of whom should now be disciplined, if not fired.
Responding to the report, Holder stated:
It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations—accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion.
Au contraire, General Holder: It looks like many of the critics of this operation, especially Senator Charles Grassley (R–IA) and Representative Darrell Issa (R–CA), got it just about right with respect to the most important aspects of this tragedy. A misguided investigation employing exceedingly risky tactics was initiated and allowed to continue for months on end, with guns turning up at more and more crime scenes, while higher-ups within ATF and DOJ ignored the many red flags that emerged and failed to ask even rudimentary questions about what was going on both during the investigation and prior to sending the February 4, 2011, letter to Congress.
The report does outline several remedial measures that have already been implemented by DOJ and suggests several more that DOJ has said it will implement. This will be small solace for Brian Terry’s family and for the families of those in Mexico who were killed with Fast and Furious guns.