The Justice Department has yet to confront widespread management failures in the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation or to order operational changes that would prevent future “disasters” from occurring, two senior Republican lawmakers who first questioned the federal probe said Monday.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Darrell E. Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the Justice Department had taken only “limited action” against lower-level managers.
“Officials in the Justice Department saw any number of warnings and some even had the gun-walking information right in front of them, yet nothing was done to stop it,” Mr. Grassley said. “Countless people may be murdered with these weapons, yet the attorney general appears to be letting his employees slide by with little to no accountability.
“The attorney general needs to make changes to ensure that department leadership provides oversight of the agencies they are tasked with supervising, instead of pointing fingers at somebody else,” he said.
Their concerns are outlined in a report issued Monday that concludes that the Fast and Furious operation was not a strictly local investigation conceived by a rogue Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ office in Phoenix, but rather the “product of a deliberate strategy created at the highest levels of the Justice Department aimed at identifying the leaders of a major gun trafficking ring.”
The report says this strategy, along with institutional inertia, led to the genesis, implementation and yearlong duration of Fast and Furious.
Though many senior Justice Department officials were keenly aware of Fast and Furious, the report said no one questioned the operation. The report says no one ordered that Fast and Furious be shut down; instead, senior department officials let it continue to grow.
“Thus far, the department has failed to reprimand any senior department officials for their actions — or lack thereof — during Fast and Furious,” the report says. “In fact, several have received promotions. The management culture of the department must change to prevent such a deadly operation from occurring again. Time is of the essence. Change must begin now.”
Justice Department officials were not available for comment Monday.
Mr. Issa noted that he and Mr. Grassley issued a preliminary report in July chronicling the Justice Department’s management failures in Fast and Furious , specifically finding fault with five senior department officials for failing to identify red flags indicating reckless tactics.
The ATF’s Fast and Furious operation saw more than 2,000 weapons — including semi-automatic assault rifles — “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico and contributed to the deaths of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry and an unknown number of Mexican citizens.
The failed investigation also created what the two lawmakers called an “ongoing public safety hazard on both sides of the border.”
They said failures within the Justice Department happened because of “conscious decisions to encourage gun dealers to sell to known traffickers and avoid interdicting those weapons or even questioning suspects, all in the hope that would lead law enforcement to cartel connections and a larger case.” No drug smugglers were arrested and more than 1,400 weapons are still missing.
In September, the Justice Department’s office of inspector general blamed the Fast and Furious failure on a series of “misguided strategies,” but found no evidence that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. knew of the misguided gunrunning investigation before its public unraveling in January 2011.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, who reviewed Fast and Furious wiretap applications, resigned. Former Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson, named in the report as failing to maintain “appropriate oversight” of Fast and Furious, announced his retirement. U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Phoenix also resigned. Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor in the Fast and Furious investigation, was reassigned from the criminal division.