Report clears attorney general, cites 14 others in Fast and Furious operation

Attorney General Eric Holder Attorney General Eric Holder Susan Walsh/AP File Photo

Investigators within the Justice Department said an agencywide philosophical failure led to the bungled Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation, according to a new report that also identified employee misconduct.

Justice’s inspector general’s office said the failures were “systemic and not due to the acts of only a few individuals.”

The report absolved Attorney General Eric Holder of wrongdoing, saying that until 2011 he did not know about the program that allowed guns to be trafficked into Mexico and led to the death of a Border Patrol agent. Investigators, however, did cite 14 other Justice personnel for misconduct but left it to agency personnel to “determine whether discipline or other administrative action with regard to each of them is appropriate.”

The report cited Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for a widespread lack of leadership.

The investigation “revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated ATF headquarters and the Phoenix field division, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona,” the inspector general’s report said.

The 471-page report comes after a 19-month investigation and significant congressional and public scrutiny.

House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the report’s findings did not come as a surprise.

“The inspector general’s report confirms what we’ve known all along -- that the Justice Department failed to properly oversee a program that allowed guns to be trafficked into Mexico, endangering public safety and ultimately contributing to the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry,” Smith said in a statement. “It is clear that the individuals responsible for overseeing this program were not up to the task then and do not deserve to remain in their positions now.”

In a statement to Government Executive, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the report should put an end to these “politically motivated” attacks.

“Today’s report affirms the problem of gun walking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the previous administration, and it was this administration’s attorney general who ended it,” he said. “Nevertheless, The Justice Department has taken strong steps to ensure accountability and make sure this does not happen again, including important administrative, policy and personnel changes."

The Republican-controlled House in June found Holder in contempt of Congress, after President Obama granted the attorney general permission to assert executive privilege to withhold documents that lawmakers requested.

“If Republicans still have any legitimate questions about Fast and Furious, this 450-page report answers them,” Schultz said. “Republicans have no excuse to keep wasting time and taxpayer resources on politically motivated, election-year attacks.”

For his part, Holder said in a statement that he concurs with the findings that he does not share responsibility for the operation.

“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,” he said.

The report made several recommendations, including increasing oversight of operations and ensuring more coordination among various law enforcement agencies.

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