The release of the final report on the Fast and Furious investigation came late Tuesday. The report rips the Congressional contempt charge against Holder to utter shreds.
Despite conspiracy theories which put Holder as the mastermind behind the use of Fast and Furious to start a gun war, the report revealed that Holder was first informed of the operation by a pair of letters sent to him from Senator Grassley on January 27 and 31, 2011.
Instead of a mastermind, what they found was that elements within the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms were still operating on the previous administration’s rules and procedures. Major operations were being undertaken and not being reported up the chain to Holder’s office as required. How did this happen?
The report goes into detail on the background of the issue. One thing they noted was that the Phoenix Office actually complied with federal laws for weapon trafficking investigations, using a provision found in Chapter K, Section 148 (Order 3310.4B), subsection 2, which reads:
(2) In other cases, immediate intervention may not be needed or desirable, and the special agent may choose to allow the transfer of firearms to take place in order to further an investigation and allow for the identification of additional coconspirators who would have continued to operate and illegally traffic firearms in the future, potentially producing more armed crime.
The Phoenix office operation used tactics originally developed for operation Wide Receiver, developed under this provision originally by Alberto Gonzales.
The report also found a loophole in the firearms tracking laws, where a gun put in to the system by an ATF agent as part of a case could only be traced if approved by the original ATF agent. The logic behind it was to prevent contamination of other cases by releasing information still involved in an active case from being leaked. However, in this case, the Phoenix office put thousands of firearms into the system, but then failed to release any of them when other agencies put in requests for information, resulting in thousands of effectively untraceable firearms into the system.
The report also went into detail comparing Fast and Furious with Wide Receiver, with a stark revelation. The Phoenix office, through its failure to inform the higher offices of the operation, found itself stymied at every turn. It could not get the authority to arrest without the support of the higher offices, but it failed to tell these offices of the operation. They became their own worst enemy.
Even after the death of agent Brian Terry on December 14, 2010, when Holder demanded all information on the shooting, he did not get the key information from the Phoenix office. It was not discovered until weeks later the connection between the shooting death and the operation.
The report is over 400 pages detailing out how career officers failed to pass along information, creating a disconnect between the Phoenix field office and the ATF, and in turn with the Department of Justice. The DoJ was unaware of this policy, the information on it given to them was discussing it as a tactic no longer in service. Even as late as November 2010 any discussions on the tactics were done in the past tense by both the national ATF as well as the DoJ itself. It was a massive block of information from field to senior officials.
In response to the report, Holder released his own statement, included in its entirety here:
“I have reviewed the Office of the Inspector General’s report on Operation Fast and Furious and the key conclusions are consistent with what I, and other Justice Department officials, have said for many months now:
- 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.
“Beginning in 2011 – shortly after public concerns were first raised about Operation Fast and Furious – I referred this matter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Throughout the next several months, I instituted significant policy reforms, stronger internal controls and made key personnel changes to prevent the flaws that plagued this investigation, as well as the earlier investigation, Operation Wide Receiver, from recurring. I’m pleased that the OIG report appropriately recognizes these reforms.
“Based upon the information in the OIG report and other related information, I am also announcing additional personnel changes today.
“First, Kenneth Melson, the former Acting Director at ATF, has retired from the Department, effective immediately. Ken has served the Department in several important roles for over 30 years, including as a United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and more recently as an advisor on forensic science issues. I want to thank him for his dedication and service to the Department over the last three decades.
“Second, 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. Consistent with the requirements of the Privacy Act, the Department is prohibited from revealing any additional information about these referrals at this time.
“Finally, I have accepted the resignation of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, a longtime career prosecutor who most recently served in the Criminal Division where he led our violent and organized crime, computer crimes and intellectual property enforcement efforts. Jason has dedicated much of his career to fighting violent crime and has led highly successful efforts around the country in this effort. The American people are safer because of his work. His commitment to the Department has been unwavering, and I deeply appreciate his 15 years of distinguished service here at Main Justice as well as in Baltimore and New York.
“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.
“I want to assure the American people that I, and my colleagues at the Department, will continue to focus on our mission of protecting their rights and their security, and doing so in a manner that is consistent with the high standards of the Department of Justice. This includes continuing to seek justice on behalf of Agent Brian Terry and his loved ones.
“The FBI and the United States Attorney from the Southern District of California have been working for many months with Mexican authorities to identify and apprehend the fugitives involved in the murder of Agent Terry, who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving his country. We now have two men in custody and we will continue to aggressively pursue the remaining fugitives to ensure justice for Agent Terry, his family and his fellow law enforcement agents who put their lives on the line each day to keep this country safe.”
The agents involved have since been suspended, and are now themselves under investigation. A total of 14 people at both the Phoenix ATF branch as well as the US Attorneys office in Arizona now are now under investigation for their involvement in the operation. Since this came to light, as detailed out in the report, the DoJ began a massive cleaning house, not just in the ATF, but department-wide. Old policies have been reviewed and audited, old memorandums and cases studied, and a strict command chain put back into place which had slowly been relaxed over previous administrations.
The result of the Fast and Furious scandal is that the Department of Justice will emerge from it more coherent, consistent, and most of all with tighter oversight and controls in place. No matter the result of the fall election, the changes Holder has put into place in wake of this affair will be long felt for decades to come.