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The Fast and Furious gun-running scandal reached another milestone Wednesday in the form of a scathing report released by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General. 14 people, including Criminal Division head Lanny Breuer, “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,” the report states. The report recommended the DOJ consider disciplinary action against these men. Within minutes of its release, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein had resigned and former ATF chief Kenneth Melson was retiring. The report further notes that there is “no evidence that…(Attorney General Eric) Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious, or learned about the tactics employed by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in the investigation” prior to the congressional inquiries directed at him 2011.
Yet as details emerge, it remains far from clear how accurate and/or comprehensive the report is. While IG Michael E. Horowitz focused his blame on what he characterized as a dysfunctional and poorly supervised group of Arizona-based federal ATF prosecutors and agents plagued by “a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures,” his report also noted that a member of the White House National Security staff refused to be interviewed, and that the White House itself would not produce internal documents for the investigation.
“We also sought to interview Kevin O’Reilly, an official with the White House National Security Staff, about communications he had in 2010 with Special Agent in Charge William Newell that included information about Operation Fast and Furious,” says the report. “O’Reilly declined through his personal counsel our request for an interview.” Wiliam Newell was the Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division, and the report reveals that he had communications with O’Reilly in 2010 that included information on Fast and Furious.
Efforts to get information from the White House were equally unsuccessful. “We requested from the White House any communications concerning Operation Fast and Furious during the relevant time period that were sent to or received from (a) certain ATF employees, including Special Agent in Charge Newell, and (b) certain members of the White House National Security Staff, including Kevin O’Reilly, the report states. “In response to our request, the White House informed us that the only responsive communications it had with the ATF employees were those between Newell and O’Reilly. The White House indicated that it previously produced those communications to Congress in response to a similar request, and the White House provided us with a copy of those materials.”
Yet that’s as far as it went. “The White House did not produce to us any internal White House communications, noting that ‘the White House is beyond the purview of the Inspector General’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Department of Justice programs and personnel,’” said the report.
In the context of what happened such stonewalling is remarkable. More than 2,000 guns were were allowed to be bought by suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF. Many of those weapons ended up in the hands of criminals working for Mexican drug cartels, even as federal agents lost track of their whereabouts. As a result, at least one American, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, and somewhere between 200 and 300 Mexican nationals were murdered.
At the DOJ, the buck apparently stops with Deputy AG Weinstein, who the report contends was the highest-ranking official in the Department with the ability to stop the program. It claims he knew about Fast and Furious as early as 2010, when he spoke with ATF official Bill McMahon about bringing indictments for a Bush-era gun-running program called Wide Receiver. Weinstein was reportedly learned about Fast and Furious during that meeting, even as he was reportedly assured no gun-running was taking place in the new program. Months later, he helped move wiretap applications along to facilitate Fast and Furious, but claims he only read the cover-sheet of those applications. He told Fox News that while he takes issue with the report’s conclusions about him, he is resigning so as to not “distract” from the department’s work.
With respect to Fast and Furious other highlights from the report paint a picture of bureaucratic ineptitude and indifference at both the DOJ and the ATF. ATF officials in Phoenix “provided demonstrably inaccurate and conflicting information” to the DOJ as they drafted–and later retracted a–response to questions from Sen. Charles Grassley about the probe. Yet the report also notes that “the Department is ultimately responsible for representations that it makes to Congress.” Then-ATF chief Melson “was not well served” by his subordinates, but ”should have asked basic questions about the investigation, including how public safety was being protected.” Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer ostensibly failed to warn Holder or his deputy about concerns about Operation Wide Receiver, when he learned about it in 2010. Dennis Burke, the U.S. for the District of Arizona, “failed to exercise responsible oversight and failed to provide the leadership and judgment required of a United States attorney.” Burke resigned in 2011, and later admitted leaking a memo designed to smear ATF agent, John Dodson, the Fast and Furious whistleblower.
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