DOJ inspector general investigates retaliation against Fast and Furious whistle-blowers

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz has launched an investigation into the apparent retaliation from inside the DOJ and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives against whistle-blowers who brought information about Operation Fast and Furious to congressional investigators.

In a July 5 letter, Horowitz told Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa that the investigation had begun. Horowitz was responding to a June 29 letter from Issa and Grassley describing how whistle-blowers were allegedly subjected to retaliation on the job.

Grassley and Issa wrote that in early 2011, when Grassley first made public the whistle-blowers’ allegations about Fast and Furious, Scot Thomasson — then chief of the ATF’s Public Affairs Division — said, according to an eyewitness account: “We need to get whatever dirt we can on these guys [the whistle-blowers] and take them down.”

“All these whistleblowers have axes to grind,” Thomasson also allegedly said. “ATF needs to f–k [sic] these guys.”

Issa and Grassley also pressed Horowitz to examine documents showing that officials in ATF’s Washington headquarters were trying to cover up Fast and Furious two weeks before Grassley began to ask about it. Grassley first made inquiries with the Justice Department and ATF on Jan. 27, 2011; ATF headquarters began preparing internal talking points as early as Jan. 12, 2011.

In those talking points, ATF officials laid out questions they expected to face about the gunwalking tactics employed in Fast and Furious, and about Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder with weapons the agency gave to Mexican drug gangs as part of the ill-fated program. ATF also prepared answers for officials to provide in response to media requests and other inquiries.

In his response to Grassley and Issa, Horowitz wrote that his office “takes seriously any situation where a whistle-blower may face possible retaliation, and it is important that the Department ensure that whistle-blowers do not suffer retaliation.”

“We have carefully reviewed the materials you provided, and we have initiated an investigation into this matter,” Horowitz added.

On Monday Grassley and Issa praised Horowitz’s decision to investigate the alleged whistle-blower retaliation. “It’s stunning that the ATF would allow placement of whistleblowers under the supervision of an individual who made the derisive and hostile comments reportedly made in this case,” Grassley said. “The Inspector General’s immediate review and response is very necessary and appreciated.”

“Congress and the IG must continue to stand up for these individuals, who acted bravely when they saw wrongdoing at the ATF,” Issa said. “In doing so, they exposed the reckless tactics that led to the death of a federal agent.”

“Protecting whistleblowers is absolutely critical — it is the right thing to do,” Issa said. “It also ensures that others will have the courage to come forward when they, too, see wrongdoing in federal agencies.”

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