WASHINGTON (CN) – The Office of the Inspector General on Wednesday cleared Attorney General Eric Holder of liability in the bungled “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking operation, but held federal agents and senior officials in the Justice Department’s BATF to account.
Holder said in a statement: “It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations – accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion. I hope today’s report acts as a reminder of the dangers of adopting as fact unsubstantiated conclusions before an investigation of the circumstances is completed.”
The 512-page report found a “lack of meaningful oversight” by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in two operations: Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious.
Fast and Furious became notorious when guns intended to be used in a BATF sting turned up at crime sites in Mexico’s bloody drug wars.
In light of the report, Holder said, he accepted the resignation of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein.
Holder said that former BATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson has retired, and that “those individuals within ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, whom the OIG report found to have been responsible for designing, implementing or supervising Operation Fast and Furious have been referred to the appropriate entities for review and consideration of potential personnel actions.”
The report makes five recommendations for the Justice Department: that it examine BATF’s policies on law enforcement and case review; work with the BATF on how to conduct investigations against gun trafficking organizations; review the policy and procedures of its other law enforcement components; and maintain a regular relationship between its leadership and its law enforcement agencies.
Though the report pointed fingers at plenty of senior Justice Department officials, including Weinstein, Holder was cleared of liability.
“We determined that Attorney General Holder did not learn about Operation Fast and Furious until late January or early February 2011 and was not aware of allegations of ‘gun walking’ in the investigation until February,” the report states.
“We concluded that the Attorney General’s Deputy Chief of Staff, the Acting Deputy Attorney General, and the leadership of the Criminal Division failed to alert the Attorney General to significant information about or flaws in those investigations.”
Holder said in his statement that “the inappropriate strategy and tactics employed were field-driven and date back to 2006; the leadership of the department did not know about or authorize the use of the flawed strategy and tactics; and the department’s leadership did not attempt to cover up information or mislead Congress about it.”
But the report did not silence Republicans on Capitol Hill, who still condemn Holder as ultimately responsible for Fast and Furious.
“The resignation of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Weinstein is a step in the right direction toward taking responsibility for the negligence that led to Agent Terry’s death. But the Attorney General also must take responsibility for his lack of leadership that contributed to the Fast and Furious fiasco,” said Congressman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who, along with Darrell Issa, R-Calif., led the attack on Holder, claiming he withheld documents from Congress during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.
Issa led the unsuccessful effort this summer to have the House vote Holder in civil and criminal contempt of Congress.
The BATF lost track of about 2,000 guns in Fast and Furious, two of which were linked to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.
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