The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee says a Justice Department investigation into the botched "Fast and Furious" gunrunning operation has taken "an awfully long time to finish" and, as a result, "should meet the highest standards of accuracy and independence."
"Operation Fast and Furious failed to live up to the standards set by the American people, and we need to know how that could ever happen," said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who first questioned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) operation more than a year ago.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asked the inspector general's office at the Justice Department in February 2011 to investigate the operation after Mr. Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, discovered that ATF had allowed more than 2,000 weapons - including AK-47 assault rifles - to be "walked" across the border to drug smugglers in Mexico.
Fast and Furious was an ATF attempt to allow "straw buyers" in Arizona to walk weapons into Mexico with a goal of tracking them to drug cartel leaders. But ATF lost track of hundreds of the weapons, 1,400 of which are still unaccounted for.
Mr. Holder's request followed harsh challenges by Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa concerning the operation after Fast and Furious weapons were found at the site of the December 2010 fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, 40, who was killed in a gunfight 10 miles north of the Arizona border town of Nogales. Two Romanian-made AK-47s found at the scene were identified as having been purchased in a Glendale, Ariz., gun shop as part of Fast and Furious.
Jay Lerner, spokesman for the inspector general's office, said "the review is ongoing," but declined to elaborate.
Mr. Grassley initially expressed concern that the investigation was being conducted without an independent Senate-confirmed inspector general running the office. Acting Inspector General Cynthia A. Schnedar has not been through the Senate confirmation process and Mr. Grassley questioned whether she could "challenge senior officials with tough questions."
President Obama's nominee as inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is awaiting Senate confirmation.
Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the inspector general's review has "taken longer than the Warren Commission report on the Kennedy assassination." He said the inquiry "comes across that it is being stonewalled until after the election."
Meanwhile, Patrick McGroder, an attorney for the Terry family, said the family was "frustrated" and "impatient" with the pace of the various investigations and proceedings including the inspector general's review but in the end "just want people to tell the truth, assume responsibility and make sure it doesn't happen again."
"The Terrys feel strongly about not letting Brian's life become a political football," he said.
Operation Fast and Furious has drawn widespread criticism, sparking questions of who inside ATF and at the Justice Department knew that weapons were being purchased by straw buyers in Arizona and delivered to drug dealers in Mexico. Mr. Obama has said he did not authorize the program and Mr. Holder has pleaded ignorance.
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