WASHINGTON -- Democrats on Capitol Hill insisted a new independent report into deep failures in Operation Fast and Furious on the Southwest border vindicates the top leadership at the Department of Justice in the flawed gun-tracking program, while Republicans said it showed that Atty. Gen. Eric Holder’s “inner circle” does not adequately serve the country’s top law enforcement official.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents; federal prosecutors in Phoenix; and top ATF and DOJ officials in Washington are all to blame for losing some 2,000 firearms on the U.S.-Mexico border after agents purposely allowed illegal gun purchases in hopes of tracking Mexican cartel leaders.
But the inspector general also emphasized that Holder was never told about the tactics used in Fast and Furious, and noted that once he learned of the operation he quickly closed it down and called for the investigation.
DOCUMENT: Read the full report
At a hearing Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Democratic members seized on an opening to champion Holder after nearly two years of hearing the Republican-led committee pin the failures of Fast and Furious on his leadership.
“There can no longer be any doubt that gun walking was never authorized or approved of by the attorney general or senior department officials,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
“The attorney general has over and over again been put on for this gun-walking,” added Eleanor Holmes Norton Holmes, the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate to the House. “The attorney general could not have approved this because he did not even know of gun-walking.”
Cummings said the report further shoots down GOP assertions that Fast and Furious was an Obama administration ploy to flood the border with firearms in order to build support for more gun control legislation. As Cummings said, the report refutes Fast and Furious “as some sort of top-down scheme or conspiracy against the 2nd Amendment.”
But Republicans stressed that the inspector general's report cited several top Justice Department officials for possible discipline for not alerting Holder about the unorthodox tactics, even after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010 and two Fast and Furious firearms were recovered at the scene south of Tucson.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), the committee chairman, called for a top management review of the Justice Department and the ATF, noting that the inspector general has referred 14 individuals for possible job discipline. Shortly after the report was released, Kenneth Melson, the former head of the ATF, and Jason M. Weinstein, a deputy assistant attorney general, resigned.
FULL COVERAGE: Fast and Furious
“We must review the conduct and performance of all officials faulted in the report to determine the appropriate discipline or other administrative action,” Issa said. “This includes all the numerous members of Atty. Gen. Holder’s own inner circle who were singled out by name in the report for their failures.”
Issa asked Inspector General Michael Horowitz if Holder’s command staff let him down. “That’s correct,” Horowitz said. “That’s what we found in our report.”
Horowitz further criticized top Justice officials for not even reading the wiretap applications in Fast and Furious before signing and approving them.
[For the record, 9:32 a.m., Sept. 20: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Eleanor Holmes Norton as Eleanor Norton Holmes, and gave her the title of representative. She is actually a nonvoting delegate to the House.]
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