Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny Breuer is the third top Justice Department official… (Ramin Talaie, Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny A. Breuer, who boosted white-collar prosecutions and oversaw the investigation into the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill, announced that he would resign as one of the longest-serving chiefs of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
Breuer, whose resignation is effective March 1, had been expected to leave after President Obama's first term.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, noted that Breuer was the third top Justice Department official to depart after the department's inspector general reviewed Fast and Furious, the program that allowed illegal gun sales along the Arizona-Mexico border in an effort to trace them to drug cartels.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., who had formally admonished Breuer over Fast and Furious, strongly praised him Wednesday. Holder noted that the Criminal Division won record penalties in corruption cases, dismantled major organized crime outfits and took on healthcare and mortgage fraud.
"Lanny has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the mission of this department," Holder said.
But Issa criticized Breuer as having been "at the heart of several critical failures" in Fast and Furious and for failing to alert his superiors about the operation.
"This resignation paves the way for needed new leadership in the Criminal Division," Issa said.
Criticism also came from a watchdog group pressing for Wall Street accountability. Brian Kettenring, coordinator of the Campaign for a Fair Settlement, said Breuer had been an obstacle to prosecuting the nation's largest banks and had failed to hold them responsible for the housing crisis.
Breuer was "appointed as the sheriff of Wall Street" but "became its protector instead," Kettenring said.
Holder called Breuer "aggressive" in money laundering and other bank fraud cases, saying he recouped nearly $2 billion in criminal penalties with a prosecution into several global financial institutions.
The Gulf of Mexico disaster came in April 2010 when BP's oil platform exploded, killing 11 workers and eventually spewing nearly 5 million barrels of crude. Breuer oversaw the Justice Department's Deepwater Horizon Task Force, which reached the largest criminal resolution in U.S. history against BP: $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties.
Breuer called his tenure "the greatest privilege" of his professional life. His replacement, who has not been named, is subject to Senate confirmation.