President Obama on Thursday called an inspector general’s report of the Justice Department’s bungled gun-trafficking operation an “independent” investigation that should silence critics of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
“Not only have we had multiple hearings in Congress, but the Inspector General is put in place specifically to be independent from the attorney general,” Mr. Obama said at a town-hall forum in Miami hosted by Univision.
But the president tripped over his own words in defending the independence of the probe that he ordered, calling it the “attorney general’s report” rather than the “inspector general.”
“This attorney general’s report was not a whitewash in any way,” Mr. Obama said. “I mean, it was tough on the Justice Department. It was, I think, independent, honest, it was a clear assessment of what had gone wrong in that situation.”
Inspector General Michael Horowitz blamed Justice for misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures in the so-called “Fast and Furious” operation that he said disregarded public safety and allowed hundreds of guns to reach Mexican drug gangs.
“There needs to be supervision; there needs to be oversight,” and law enforcement operations like Fast and Furious need to be referred at the start to “the highest levels” of the department, Mr. Horowitz said. He faulted Justice officials for not briefing Mr. Holder much earlier.
Lawmakers in both parties thanked Mr. Horowitz for his findings and praised his work.
Asked whether Mr. Holder should be fired, the president said no.
“We assigned an inspector general to do a thorough report, which was just issued, confirming in fact that Eric Holder did not know about this, that he took prompt action,” Mr. Obama said. “The people who did initiate this were held accountable. I will tell you that Eric Holder has my complete confidence because he has shown himself to be willing to hold accountable those who took these actions and is passionate about making sure that we’re preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands.”