Four top Justice Department officials had failures of memory 249 times during interviews with congressional investigators looking for answers about Operation Fast and Furious, according to the second installment of a joint staff report on the scandal from Congressman Darrell Issa and Senator Charles Grassley.
That revelation is found on the second-to-the-last page of the 104-page report, released Monday while most of official Washington, D.C. was riding out Hurricane Sandy. This column began digging into the report yesterday. The report may be read here, and exhibits may be viewed here.
The forgetful officials were Robert “Monty” Wilkinson, the Justice Department’s deputy chief of staff; Gary Grindler, acting deputy attorney general; Edward Siskel, associate deputy attorney general and Dennis Burke, former U.S. Attorney for Arizona. Burke abruptly resigned from his post on Aug. 30, 2011 at the same time that Kenneth Melson was replaced as acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Under normal circumstances, the attorney general might be heavily criticized for having such officials under his command. However, if one were to judge from the lack of mainstream press attention to this second report, Attorney General Eric Holder may as well be asleep in his office. No officials have been fired, though a couple of people have resigned and others have retired from their jobs at ATF.
According to the report, “Given the circumstances surrounding Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s death, one would expect Justice Department officials to have some recollection of the event. Instead, Department officials seem to have experienced collective memory loss. During his three-hour interview, Wilkinson stated that he could ‘not recall’ or did ‘not know’ the answer to questions posed 38 times. Gary Grindler provided similar answers 29 times, and Ed Siskel 21 times. In two different interviews, Burke stated that he ‘did not recall’ or ‘did not know’ 161 times.”
Clues about this memory loss may be found at the bottom of Page 14 of the report, where investigators have concluded that top officials in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division “discovered in the spring of 2010 that gunwalking had occurred in Operation Wide Receiver.”
“However,” the report states, “rather than notifying the Inspector General or even the Deputy Attorney General, the individual responsible for overseeing ATF, senior Criminal Division officials held a single meeting with ATF leadership and a senior Department official in the press office in which they focused on the challenges of presenting gunwalking to the press.”
The report further asserts, “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.”
Indeed, the report finds fault with Justice Department officials along the chain of command, and details the failures to supervise ATF on Page 15 of the report. Here’s what the Issa-Grassley report has to say:
- Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed Siskel did not actively engage with ATF leadership. He viewed his role as extremely limited, so he did not seek out any detailed knowledge of specific ATF operations, including Operation Fast and Furious. Siskel had no prior training or experience with ATF, and he did not make any effort to learn more about ATF’s problems during his tenure in ODAG.
- Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler did not take an active leadership role with respect to ATF. He waited for his staff to bring matters to his attention. Accordingly, Operation Fast and Furious continued unabated.
- 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.
- Within the Department of Justice, ATF reports to the ODAG. Not a single Department official, however, took responsibility for supervising ATF. By failing to ask difficult questions about Fast and Furious, ODAG left ATF with the impression that ATF had the full support of Department leadership in the operation.
The report also noted that Burke “reported to officials at Justice Department headquarters that his office had obtained a Title III wiretap in a firearms trafficking case—an unusual step and an aggressive tactic—no one at Justice Department headquarters probed deeper.”
Further, investigators determined that ATF officials had asked the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Office of the Deputy attorney General for help to speed up indictments against gun trafficking suspects. However, Justice Department officials did nothing.
“Instead,” the report says, “officials at Department headquarters were only concerned with preparing for the press impact of the indictments.”
Release of the report, and its revelations, has been overshadowed by the devastation left in the wake of the hurricane, and what appears to be a surge in the polls for Republican Mitt Romney as the election draws near.
PLEASE SUBSCRIBE by clicking the link above.
PLEASE FORWARD the link to this column to friends and forums.
Second Amendment Foundation
Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Follow on Twitter: