A new report concluded that Attorney General Eric Holder was not informed of a botched gun-trafficking operation that allowed about 2,000 weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican cartel enforcers until it had been shut down in late 2010. (AP)
Fourteen federal law enforcement officials were recommended for discipline, including the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, related to their involvement in a botched gun-trafficking operation that allowed about 2,000 weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican cartel enforcers, according to an internal Justice Department review.
However, the report concluded that Attorney General Eric Holder was not informed of the program’s tactics until it had been shut down in late 2010.
A 472-page review by the Justice Department’s inspector general found “serious failures” at virtually every level of federal law enforcement that oversaw the operation, known as Fast and Furious, and a similar program, dubbed Wide Receiver. The report singled out Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer — the head of the criminal division — among more than a dozen others for not recognizing the programs’ dangerous flaws.
Although it recommended discipline for justice officials, it did not suggest they should be referred for criminal prosecution.
The botched gun-trafficking operation ignited a politically charged battle pitting congressional Republicans against Holder, who oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In June, a House oversight committee investigating the gun operation voted to hold Holder in contempt related to the panel’s request for documents in the trafficking case. President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold certain documents from the committee.
Last year, following damaging congressional testimony from ATF agents who objected to the tactics used in the trafficking inquiry, Holder announced a dramatic shake-up of the agency resulting in the reassignment of interim director Ken Melson and the resignation of the top federal prosecutor in Arizona, Dennis Burke. The prosecutor’s office oversaw related firearm investigations.
Melson was replaced by B. Todd Jones, currently interim director for the troubled agency, which has been without a permanent director for six years.
Before the inspector general’s report, the personnel moves represented the Obama administration’s most direct response to the flawed gun investigation.
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Melson has retired. The department also announced that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, also singled out in the report for failing to pass along details of the operation, submitted his resignation.
The operation was shut down shortly after the Dec. 14, 2010, murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in an Arizona shootout. Two weapons recovered at the scene of Terry’s murder were purchased as part of the federal sting operation. It has not been determined whether either of the weapons was used to kill Terry.
As part of the trafficking investigation, ATF officials allowed the guns to be purchased by alleged cartel associates, known as straw buyers, hoping the trail of weapons would lead to cartel leaders and their ultimate prosecutions.
Kevin Johnson writes for USA Today.