The chairman of a House committee investigating the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation praised a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General on what went wrong in the bungled investigation but said more people involved need to lose their jobs.
Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Thursday described the 471-page report by Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz as “extremely comprehensive, strong and independent,” adding that it confirms what the panel knew for some time: “The Department of Justice has let the American people down.” Mr. Issa called the botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigation a “breach of the public trust,” saying it contributed to the December 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry and the deaths of “countless innocent Mexican citizens.”
He said all 14 people named in the report for sanctions or disciplinary action “should find new occupations,” adding that “when mistakes of this magnitude occur, senior officials must be held accountable.”
While two of the 14 already have resigned in the wake of the Wednesday report — Deputy Attorney General Jason Weinstein and former Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson — Mr. Issa and other committee Republicans focused on the role of Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division.
The report says Mr. Breuer learned about guns being “walked” into Mexico in April 2010 when he was told about a 2006 operation known as Wide Receiver and failed to alert Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. or his deputies who could have taken action to stop the “unacceptable” tactic.
It also said Mr. Breuer failed to tell department officials about the earlier gun-walking tactics when they were preparing their now discredited response letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, over Fast and Furious. That Feb. 4, 2011, letter said any allegation that guns had been walked into Mexico was false and ATF always tried to interdict weapons.
Mr. Issa said he was concerned because the attorney general’s office “lied” to Congress.
Mr. Grassley, in a statement, said emails show Mr. Breuer received a draft of the letter and commented on it before it was sent, but the report accepts Mr. Breuer’s version of events that he had not “proposed edits, commented on the drafts or otherwise indicated he had read them.”
Mr. Horowitz told the committee that whether Mr. Breuer read the letter or not, he should have told department officials who were drafting it about Wide Receiver, adding that “it would have made a difference.”
“I think you were a little soft on Lanny Breuer,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, asked how Mr. Breuer could escape being punished because he headed the department’s criminal division.
Mr. Horowitz said it was up to Mr. Holder whether to discipline someone or not.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said the report showed that gun-walking into Mexico was not authorized or approved by Mr. Holder or other senior department officials, but came as a result of “tactical and strategic decisions by agents and prosecutors.”
The report blames the failure of Fast and Furious on “misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures” permeating ATF’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and its Phoenix field office, and “questionable judgments” by Justice Department officials in Washington that marred the department’s responses to Capitol Hill inquiries. More than 2,000 weapons, including AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles, found their way to Mexico as part of Fast and Furious, about 1,400 of which are still unaccounted for.
“Nothing in this report vindicates anyone,” Mr. Issa said.