UPDATED (1 p.m. PDT)
The long-awaited Inspector General’s report on Operation Fast and Furious points to “widespread failures” on the part of senior Justice Department officials, and “confirms findings by Congress’ investigation of a near total disregard for public safety” in the process.
That was the immediate reaction from Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has been investigating the blundered gun trafficking sting for more than 18 months. The operation was mounted by the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz is scheduled to testify about the report, which reportedly covers some 500 pages, on Capitol Hill Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. eastern time.
Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly declaring “victory” in the case, as the report tends to absolve him of direct responsibility.
Meanwhile, Fox News is reporting that Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division, is resigning. His name appears on a lot of already-released e-mail correspondence about the mishandled operation. Also, there are reports that Kenneth Melson, acting ATF director durign Fast and Furious, has announced his retirement.
Dennis Burke, who served as U.S. Attorney for Arizona during Fast & Furious, resigned abruptly in August 2011 at the same time that Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson was being relieved of that post and transferred to a job elsewhere in the Justice Department.
Responding to the report, Issa stated, “Contrary to the denials of the Attorney General and his political defenders in Congress, the investigation found that information in wiretap applications approved by senior Justice Department officials in Washington did contain red flags showing reckless tactics and faults Attorney General Eric Holder’s inner circle for their conduct.
“Former Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer who heads the Criminal Division, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, and Holder’s own Deputy Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson are all singled out for criticism in the report,” Issa added. “It’s time for President Obama to step in and provide accountability for officials at both the Department of Justice and ATF who failed to do their jobs. Attorney General Holder has clearly known about these unacceptable failures yet has failed to take appropriate action for over a year and a half.”
According to Issa’s office, IG Horowitz “has indicated he will continue his investigation of matters related to Operation Fast and Furious, including retaliation against whistleblowers and an effort to have the Justice Department unseal wiretap applications sealed by courts that were approved by senior officials.”
Some insiders expect the axe to fall on some of the ATF officials who were running the operation from the Phoenix office, possibly within the next 48 hours. Examiner will continue monitoring developments and report them as they unfold.
UPDATE: In a late-breaking development, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the man who initiated the first Capitol Hill inquiry into the gunwalking scandal, released this statement:
“At first glance, the Inspector General’s report reaffirms virtually everything that Congressman Issa and I have already reported,” Grassley said. “Operation Fast and Furious was the height of irresponsibility on the part of a number of people from the ATF Phoenix field office all the way up to the Justice Department headquarters. And, we still don’t know the full extent of any White House involvement because they refused to be transparent and provide documents requested by the Inspector General.
“It’s clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious,” the senator continued. “They ignored warnings from employees, and frankly, failed to do their jobs. It took the death of our own Border Patrol Agent, action by a courageous whistleblower, and intense scrutiny from Congress before they even took note of what was happening under their own eyes. Even then, they wouldn’t come clean with how bad it really was until after they had sent a false letter and retracted it eight months later.
“It’s particularly discouraging that this all could have been stopped early on if people had just read the wiretap applications,” he added. “The Inspector General noted that anybody reading those documents should have seen the red flags. The law requires that certain senior officials authorize those applications, and the Inspector General found that they did so without reading them. I’m glad that the OIG is joining me and Chairman Issa in urging the Justice Department to move to unseal the wiretap applications so that the American people can read them and make up their own minds.
“The President also appears to be abusing his authority to exert executive privilege,” Sen. Grassley observed. “The White House rightly allowed the Inspector General to make public a small subset of the documents withheld from Congress under his claim of Executive Privilege, but it continues to shut out Congress’ access to the rest of the documents. It proves that this subset of documents could have been released earlier, and the President was merely thumbing his nose at Congress by claiming Executive Privilege on the eve of the contempt vote against Attorney General Holder for withholding the documents.
“It’s time to hold people accountable,” he insisted. “Attorney General Holder is out of excuses for action.
“We’ll be reading the report in more detail,” Grassley confirmed. “We’ve already noticed that the report contains a factual error that lets Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer off the hook. The report accepts Breuer’s version of events, claiming that he hadn’t “proposed edits, commented on the drafts or otherwise indicated he had read them.” In fact, emails show that he received drafts of the February 4 letter and commented on them before it was sent, which he later denied to Congress.
“Last but not least,” he concluded, “I hope the report helps answer questions for the Terry family. They deserve more answers than they’ve received up to this point from their government.”