Republican lawmakers want more heads to roll over Operation Fast and Furious after a report faulted multiple agencies for letting the failed anti-gunrunning probe get out of hand — as they cited a key section that appeared to contradict testimony by Attorney General Eric Holder.
One Justice Department official has resigned and another has retired in the wake of the inspector general report. Another 14 officials were forwarded for possible disciplinary action.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a hearing Thursday where Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified that “all 14” should leave the department.
Other lawmakers suggested senior officials — particularly criminal division chief Lanny Breuer — should at least face discipline. Further, they hammered the point that the IG report appeared to contradict Holder’s testimony earlier this year in which he said wiretap applications did not reveal that gunwalking tactics were being used.
The complaints signaled that, while lawmakers on both sides of the aisle claim to be pleased with the extensiveness of the IG report, Republican critics will continue to push for more documents and more discipline in the wake of the Fast and Furious scandal.
“Sadly, the Department of Justice was not vindicated,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. “I just … can’t imagine a headline that reads … ‘passengers charged with speeding, driver exonerated’.”
The report faulted a range of agencies and accused officials of a “disregard” for public safety. It marked the most comprehensive account yet on the deadly operation which allowed weapons to “walk” across the U.S.-Mexico border and resulted in hundreds of firearms turning up at crime scenes in both countries.
The report said Holder was not made aware of potential flaws in the program until February of last year.
But Gowdy and other lawmakers pointed to a section of the findings that said a round of wiretap applications should have raised “red flags” for those who reviewed them — despite Holder’s claims to the contrary earlier this year.
The report said: “We reviewed the wiretap affidavits in both Operation Wide Receiver and
Operation Fast and Furious and concluded that the affidavits in both cases included information that would have caused a prosecutor who was focused on the question of investigative tactics, particularly one who was already sensitive to the issue of ‘gun walking,’ to have questions about ATF’s conduct of the investigations,” the report said.
Horowitz repeated that claim Thursday, saying: “If you were focused and looking at the question of gunwalking you would read these reports and see many red flags.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Holder’s testimony from earlier this year was a “direct contradiction” to that.
Holder said at the time: “I’ve looked at these affidavits. I’ve looked at these summaries. There’s nothing in those affidavits as I’ve reviewed them that indicates that gunwalking was allowed. Let’s get to the bottom line — so I didn’t see anything in there that would put on notice a person who was reviewing either at the line level or at the deputy assistant attorney general level, that you would have knowledge of the fact that these inappropriate tactics were being used.”
Gowdy said that in light of that testimony, the IG’s conclusion was “startling.”
But a Justice Department official said Holder’s statements to Congress were accurate, noting that, “the affidavits do not explicitly and clearly say gun-walking” and claiming the IG report doesn’t allege that either.
Gowdy also questioned how employees under Breuer were being disciplined while Breuer so far has not been in any serious way.
“How does he escape discipline?” Gowdy asked.
The IG report criticized Breuer for not notifying Holder about Operation Wide Receiver, the prior Bush-era gunwalking investigation, when he first learned about it in 2010.
A DOJ official told Fox News that Breuer was “admonished” by Holder last year, but no further action is considered to be warranted.
An employee under Breuer — Jason Weinstein, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division — resigned after the IG investigation. The report marked him as the highest-ranking DOJ employee in a position to stop the program, though Weinstein disputed that conclusion.
Holder said in a statement that those found responsible for roles in the operation “have been referred to the appropriate entities for review and consideration of potential personnel actions.” The department said it could not reveal more details at this time.
On Capitol Hill Thursday, lawmakers and the inspector general joined in assailing the entire operation as misguided and poorly supervised.
Horowitz testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about a “pattern of serious failures” with the program.
Horowitz testified that “no one responsible for the case” in the U.S. attorney’s office or Phoenix division of ATF “raised a serious question or concern” about the operation. Further, he said investigators found no “persuasive evidence” that supervisors raised concerns about the safety risk or the delay in arresting people who were buying and trafficking these firearms.
Horowitz also criticized flaws in Operation Wide Receiver, the Bush administration-era predecessor to Fast and Furious.
“The risk to the public safety was immediately evident in both investigations,” he said.
The Fast and Furious program caught the attention of Congress and the rest of the country after weapons from Fast and Furious were found at the crime scene of murdered Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
“Operation Fast and Furious is a poster child for what you don’t do with deadly weapons,” Issa said Thursday.
He added that “nothing in this report vindicates anyone.”
“If you touched, looked, could have touched, could have looked, could have asked for information that could have caused you to intervene … and you didn’t,” he said, “you fell short of your responsibility.”
Fox News’ Mike Levine contributed to this report.
- GOP Rep.: Gunwalking report helps restore faith (cbsnews.com)