By NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action
This week, the second of three parts of the joint staff report on the “Fast and Furious” scandal was released by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. While the first report looked at the actions of those who actually implemented the disastrous program, this report focuses on the management and oversight of the operation by senior Department of Justice officials–or, to put it more accurately, the lack of management and oversight by those officials.
The report outlined how the administration’s policy decisions set the stage for “Fast and Furious”:
“Shortly after he took office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. delivered a series of speeches about combating violence along the southwest border. He focused specifically on fighting Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, and in the fall of 2009, the Justice Department released a document crystallizing the Attorney General’s vision, entitled “Department of Justice Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels.
“As part of this new strategy, the Department of Justice made a tactical decision to shift its focus from arresting straw purchasers to identifying members of large illegal trafficking networks.” (page 9)
However, the report also shows that although the Attorney General and top DOJ officials had adopted this strategy, those same officials failed to take note of information that should have alerted them to the number of firearms allowed to be illegally trafficked to Mexican drug cartels. Additionally, the report found that senior DOJ officials were aware in 2010 of the failed earlier operation called “Wide Receiver,” which was scrapped after the effort to track and interdict a few hundred firearms failed and those guns ended up in the hands of criminals.
“Consistent with a desire for a new emphasis on prosecuting gun trafficking cases, at around the same time, Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, assigned a prosecutor to a dormant firearms trafficking case out of the ATF Phoenix Field Division known as Operation Wide Receiver. Under prior Department leadership, Wide Receiver was not prosecuted, in part due to the reckless tactics used in the investigation. Both Breuer’s resurrection of the prosecution and the Department’s new strategy, however, provided the imprimatur for the Phoenix Field Division to create Operation Fast and Furious.” (page 9)
In “Fast and Furious,” the failure to recognize the problems of “Wide Receiver,” combined with the irresponsible lack of oversight by senior DOJ officials, led to thousands of firearms ending up in the hand of the drug cartels.
Here are some of the most important findings of the report:
“Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed Siskel, and other officials from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General attended a detailed briefing on Operation Fast and Furious in March 2010. Despite the evidence presented at the briefing of illegally-purchased firearms being recovered in Mexico, Grindler and Siskel failed to ask probing questions or take any significant follow-up action to monitor and supervise the conduct of the case.” (page 14)
“Criminal Division officials received detailed information about gunwalking in Fast and Furious at the same time these officials were expressing concern about gunwalking that had occurred in Operation Wide Receiver. Many similarities existed between the two operations. However, officials in the Justice Department claim that no one made the connection, failing to recognize the same warning signs and mistakes in both operations.” (page 15)
“The Criminal Division authorized at least six wiretap applications for Fast and Furious. The applications were replete with details and instances of gunwalking. These wiretap applications bypassed ATF senior leadership and were sent straight to the Criminal Division. This approval process created the unusual situation in which senior Criminal Division officials received materials that senior ATF officials had not reviewed. These materials should have raised red flags.” (page 14)
“Deputy Chief of Staff to the Attorney General Monty Wilkinson was uninterested in the initiatives and operations of individual Justice Department components—including those in his portfolio. In fact, he believed it was not the role of anyone in the Office of the Attorney General to manage and supervise Department components. He read weekly memos containing details about Fast and Furious, but did nothing with this information.” (page 15)
The report also found that DOJ officials were negligent in their responsibility to actively oversee the operation.
“Department leadership’s failure to recognize Fast and Furious was a problem until it was too late was the result of a ‘pass-the-buck’ attitude that emanated from the highest echelons of the Department of Justice. Every senior Department official interviewed during the Committees’ investigation claimed either ignorance of Fast and Furious or that it was someone else’s responsibility to ask questions or draw connections. Senior managers placed blame elsewhere and retained plausible deniability. This environment allowed Fast and Furious to fester for over a year.” (page 10)
Additionally, the report highlighted the fact that no DOJ officials have been held responsible for this reckless operation that led to the death of two federal agents and hundreds of Mexican citizens, nor have real changes to management policies been implemented.
“Thus far, the Department has failed to reprimand any senior Department officials for their actions—or lack thereof—during Fast and Furious. 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.” (page 10)
Finally, the report includes a prologue that details how ATF’s former Acting Director Kenneth Melson came to testify before the Oversight Committee. It shows how the DOJ maintained tight control over all information regarding “Fast and Furious” and attempted to interfere with the flow of information to investigators.
In his testimony, Melson stated the following:
“My view is that the whole matter of the Department’s response in this case was a disaster. That as a result, it came to fruition that the committee staff had to be more aggressive and assertive in attempting to get information from the Department, and as a result, there was more adverse publicity towards ATF than was warranted if we had cooperated from the very beginning. And a lot of what they did was damage control after a while. Their position on things changed weekly and it was hard for us to catch up on it, but it was very clear that they were running the show.” (page 5)
He went on to identify the motives of DOJ officials throughout the investigation:
“I think there could have been accommodations made between the Hill and ATF and DOJ as to how information was shared. It was very frustrating to all of us, and it appears thoroughly to us that the Department is really trying to figure out a way to push the information away from their political appointees at the Department.” (page 8)
All Americans owe thanks to Oversight Committee Chairman Issa and Senator Grassley for their dedication to finding the truth and informing the American people about this reckless operation. In the coming months, the third part of the report, which deals with the response of the DOJ to the investigation will be released. The information contained in that final installment, combined with the first two (part one can be reviewed here), will provide a complete picture of the Obama Justice Department’s fundamental irresponsibility in approving and overseeing this disastrous program, and in covering it up after the fact.