- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday said “misguided gunwalking operations” that began in 2006 in Arizona lacked sufficient operational controls to stop dangerous weapons from getting to violent criminals, creating a danger to public safety on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland said in a 95-page minority staff report that rather than halting the operations after flaws became evident, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) launched “similarly reckless operations” over the next several years, also with tragic results.

Mr. Cummings‘ report, titled “Fatally Flawed: Five Years of Gunwalking in Arizona,” concludes that ATF’s Phoenix field division devised a strategy to forgo prosecutions against low-level straw buyers who purchased hundreds of weapons at Arizona gun shops while they attempted to build larger cases against the drug cartels, but the strategy failed.

The report also says that contrary to “repeated claims by some,” investigators found no evidence that the failed “Fast and Furious” probe was a “politically-motivated operation conceived and directed” by high-level Obama administration political appointees at the Justice Department.

“The documents obtained and interviews conducted by the committee indicate that it was the latest in a series of reckless and fatally flawed operations run by ATF’s Phoenix field division during both the previous and current administrations,” he said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who first began the Fast and Furious probe more than a year ago, said the report’s conclusion that senior political appointees “have clean hands in these gunwalking scandals doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

Mr. Grassley said top Justice Department officials ignored the Fast and Furious warning signs and failed to stop it or hold anyone accountable. He said Justice Department documents show that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the criminal division, was discussing plans to let guns cross the border “on the same day the department denied to me in writing that ATF would ever let guns walk.

“It will take a lot more than a knee-jerk defense from their political allies in Congress to restore public trust in the leadership of the Justice Department,” Mr. Grassley said.

The Cummings report said Fast and Furious was the fourth in a series of operations in which guns were walked to Mexico since 2006. It details complaints by ATF agents and senior officials in Washington, who told the committee the failures were “aggravated and compounded” by a lack of aggressive prosecution by the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona.

He also said that despite several requests, the committee never held a hearing or interviewed former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was told in 2007 about the failure of law enforcement operations involving the smuggling of weapons into Mexico and received a proposal to expand the operations.

“We do not have the benefit of his input about why these operations were allowed to continue after he was given this information,” Mr. Cummings said.

He said the committee also rejected his request to hold a public hearing with Kenneth Melson, ATF’s former acting director, and while the committee staff conducted an interview of Mr. Melson, the public has not had an “opportunity to hear his explanations for why these operations continued for so many years without adequate oversight from ATF headquarters.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, has focused the panel’s inquiry on Fast and Furious, noting that more than 2,000 weapons were illegally purchased by straw buyers at Arizona gun shops during that operation, including hundreds of AK-47 assault rifles. More than 1,400 weapons remain unaccounted for.

Mr. Holder will testify Thursday on what Mr. Issa calls “management deficiencies” within the department that occurred both during Fast and Furious and after it was shut down.

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