WASHINGTON -- Fourteen federal law enforcement officials -- from field agents in Arizona to top managers in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Justice Department in Washington -- created a “significant danger to public safety” under Operation Fast and Furious, an investigative report found.
Those officials still employed were referred for possible job discipline for carrying out the gun-trafficking operation that saturated the Southwest border with more than 2,000 illegally purchased firearms.
Less than an hour after the findings were announced Wednesday by the Justice Department inspector general’s office, two of the individuals -- Kenneth Melson, the former head of the ATF, and Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Jacob Weinstein -- announced they were stepping down.
The 18-month investigation, the only independent review of Fast and Furious, concluded that Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. had no prior knowledge of operation, a position he has long held despite intense criticism from Republican lawmakers who earlier voted him in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over some Justice Department documents regarding Fast and Furious.
The inspector general’s office also determined that ATF agents and federal prosecutors had enough evidence to arrest and charge Jaime Avila, a Phoenix gun smuggler, months before U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010. Two of the Fast and Furious weapons Avila illegally purchased were recovered at the scene of that slaying.
Fast and Furious -- in which officials permitted illegal gun purchases hoping they could track the weapons to top Mexican drug cartel leaders -- was a “risky strategy,” implemented by ATF and the U.S. attorney’s office without adequate regard for the risk it posed to “public safety in the United States and Mexico,” said Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
Holder said the job performance of the officials criticized in the report would be reviewed with the “consideration of potential personnel actions.” He declined to elaborate, citing privacy restrictions.
The attorney general also fired back at “unsubstantiated conclusions” by Republican lawmakers and other conservatives who for nearly two years have raised allegations that Holder and possibly some Obama White House officials not only were aware of the Fast and Furious’ unusual tactics but condoned them.
“It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations,” he said, “accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion.”