Fast and Furious: Where Was the Leadership at the Department of Justice?
John G. Malcolm /
On Monday, Representative Darrell Issa (R–CA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R–IA) released Part II of their promised three-part report titled Fast and Furious: The Anatomy of a Failed Operation.
As described in a Heritage Legal Memorandum, Part I focused on the involvement of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which ran the operation from its Phoenix bureau. It contained a compelling narrative regarding this botched law enforcement operation, especially the lack of serious supervision of some terrible on-the-ground decisions that had deadly consequences, including the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Part II concludes that several high-ranking Department of Justice (DOJ) officials failed to ask rudimentary questions or react to the numerous red flags that should have been evident to anyone who was paying attention that Operation Fast and Furious had come off the rails and needed to be shut down immediately.
The officials singled out for criticism include Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer (who heads the Criminal Division), acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler (now chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Holder), Deputy Chief of Staff to the Attorney General Robert “Monty” Wilkinson, Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed Siskel, and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein (who recently resigned).
As detailed in DOJ’s inspector general’s report and by Univision, approximately 2,000 high-powered weapons were purchased by straw purchasers (individuals who pretend to purchase firearms for themselves but are instead purchasing them illegally for someone else) destined for Mexico, where they ended up in the hands of the drug cartels who used them, predictably enough, to devastating effect to commit murder and mayhem.
Despite the plethora of warning signs, it seems that nobody considered it his job to supervise or interfere with a “local” operation, even though the federal agents in charge of this investigation had shown poor judgment with respect to an earlier operation in which a large number of guns “walked” into Mexico.
On July 4, 2011, acting ATF director Ken Melson, a career prosecutor who was being muzzled by senior DOJ officials, took the extraordinary step of meeting in secret with congressional investigators. On that occasion, he told them:
My view is that the whole matter of the Department’s response in this case was a disaster. That as a result, it came to fruition that the committee staff had to be more aggressive and assertive in attempting to get information from the Department, and as a result, there was more adverse publicity towards ATF than was warranted if we had cooperated from the very beginning. And a lot of what they did was damage control after a while. Their position on things changed weekly and it was hard for us to catch up on it, but it was very clear that they were running the show.
The DOJ would have been, and still would be, better served by being completely forthcoming about what happened. The family of Brian Terry as well as the families of those who lost their lives in Mexico (not to mention the victims yet to come) at the hands of thugs using Fast and Furious weapons deserve nothing less.
As of this date, however, President Obama continues to assert his broad claim of executive privilege over many of the documents that Congress has subpoenaed from DOJ. Indeed, the DOJ is asserting weak legal arguments in court in an attempt to keep those documents from seeing the light of day.