The Senate Judiciary Committee's top Republican, who began the investigation into the "Fast and Furious" gunrunning probe nearly two years ago, says it's time those responsible for the botched operation were disciplined.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, noting this week in a speech on the Senate floor that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. delayed any discipline for the officials responsible for Fast and Furious until after the release of the report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, said the "time for accountability has finally come."
The report, released last week, blamed the operation's failure on "misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures" by officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) headquarters in Washington and in the Phoenix field office and on "questionable judgments" by Justice Department officials in Washington.
"There are no more excuses for inaction," the senator said, noting that while the Justice Department "tried to push all the blame on the ATF and officials in Phoenix," Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz's report confirmed that senior officials in Washington "ignored red flag after red flag."
"Senior officials in both the Justice Department and ATF knew or should have known that Operation Fast and Furious was putting guns into the hands of criminals," he said. "But they ignored the risks and failed to take steps to protect public safety. Now Attorney General Holder has been saying for months he would hold off on any personnel action until the inspector general report was released. Mr. Attorney General, it's time to hold people accountable."
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler referred inquiries on Mr. Grassley's comment's to Mr. Holder's statement on the inspector general's report, which confirmed that "inappropriate strategy and tactics" were employed, but the department's leadership did not know about or authorize them or seek to cover them up. He also said the department was prohibited from revealing what personnel actions, if any, it would take against those found to have been responsible for designing, implementing or supervising Fast and Furious.
"I want to assure the American people that I, and my colleagues at the department, will continue to focus on our mission of protecting their rights and their security, and doing so in a manner that is consistent with the high standards of the Department of Justice," he said.
Mr. Grassley called the inspector general's report a "significant milestone" for the family of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry, killed in December 2010 in a firefight along the U.S.-Mexico border with illegal aliens armed with weapons purchased in the Fast and Furious operation.
In a statement last week, the Terry family said, "The department's failures chronicled in the report had deadly and tragic consequences for hundreds of innocent American and Mexican victims of violent crimes. And our son, friend, relative and hero, Brian Terry, is dead.
"Questions and concerns should have been raised before the weapons purchased in this failed government sting wound up in the hands of drug dealers and killers, including those who killed Brian," the family said. "The focus today should not be on political spin control, nor on praise for the DOJ supervisors who chose to resign in light of the report's findings, but rather on the gross negligence of the department documented in the report and the tragic consequences of that negligence."
Mr. Grassley's concerns about Fast and Furious surfaced after two AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles purchased as a part of the operation were found at the scene of the Terry killing.
The inspector general's report recommended that 14 Justice Department employees be reviewed for possible sanctions or other disciplinary actions.
Top officials specifically named in the report included Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the department's Criminal Division; Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Mr. Holder's chief of staff; Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, who reviewed Fast and Furious wiretap applications; former Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson; former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Arizona; former Deputy Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson; and ATF Deputy Director William Hoover, who resigned just days after a congressional report on Fast and Furious criticized him and other ATF officials for the failed gunrunning operation.
Mr. Weinstein resigned and Mr. Melson announced his retirement in the wake of the inspector general's report.
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