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1 Holder cleared of Fast And Furious on Wed Sep 19, 2012 8:19 pm



WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department's internal watchdog on Wednesday faulted the agency for misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures during a bungled gun-trafficking probe in Arizona that disregarded public safety and resulted in hundreds of weapons turning up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico.

A former head of the department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a deputy assistant attorney general in Justice's criminal division in Washington left the department upon the report's release — the first by retirement, the second by resignation.

In the 471-page report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz referred more than a dozen people for possible department disciplinary action for their roles in Operation Fast and Furious and a separate, earlier probe known as Wide Receiver, undertaken during the George W. Bush administration. A former acting deputy attorney general and the head of the criminal division were criticized for actions and omissions related to operations subsequent to and preceding Fast and Furious.

The report did not criticize Attorney General Eric Holder, but said lower-level officials should have briefed him about the investigation much earlier.

The report found no evidence that Holder was informed about the Fast and Furious operation before Jan. 31, 2011, or that the attorney general was told about the much-disputed gun-walking tactic employed by the ATF.

Gun-walking was an experimental tactic, barred under long-standing department policy. ATF agents in Arizona allowed suspected "straw purchasers," in these cases believed to be working for Mexican drug gangs, to leave Phoenix-area gun stores with weapons in order to track them and bring charges against gun-smuggling kingpins who long had eluded prosecution, but they lost track of most of the guns.

The experimental operations were a response to widespread criticisms of the agency's anti-smuggling efforts. Because of thin ATF staffing and weak penalties, the traditional strategy of arresting suspected straw buyers as soon as possible had failed to stop the flow of tens of thousands of guns to Mexico — more than 68,000 in the past five years.

The inspector general found fault with the work of the senior ATF leadership, the ATF staff and U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix and senior officials of Justice's criminal division in Washington. He also said that poor internal information-gathering and drafting at Justice and ATF caused the department to initially misinform Congress about Fast and Furious, beginning with a Feb. 4, 2011, letter.

"The inspector general's report confirms findings by Congress' investigation of a near total disregard for public safety in Operation Fast and Furious," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating Operation Fast and Furious since early 2011. Horowitz is to testify before Issa's panel Thursday.

During the investigation President Barack Obama ordered Holder to withhold from the committee, under executive privilege, some documents describing how the department responded to the panel. The Republican-controlled House voted to hold Holder in contempt and has authorized a civil lawsuit to make the administration turn over the documents. Horowitz said he was not denied access to any of the documents.

Two of the 2,000 weapons thought to have been acquired by illicit buyers in the Fast and Furious investigation were recovered at the scene of a shootout that claimed the life of U.S. border agent Brian Terry. About 1,400 of the total have yet to be recovered.

Holder noted in a statement that the report confirmed his assertions that the flawed strategies were driven by field agents without his knowledge or approval and that department did not set out to misinform Congress.

He said the report's disciplinary recommendations are being pursued and "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."

Fast and Furious has produced charges against 20 gun traffickers, 14 of whom have pleaded guilty so far.

One of those criticized in the report, former ATF acting director Kenneth Melson, who headed that agency during the Fast and Furious investigation, retired upon release of the report.

"Melson made too many assumptions about the case," the report stated. "Melson should have asked basic questions about the investigation, including how public safety was being protected."

Melson responded in a written statement: "While I firmly disagree with many of the speculative assumptions, conclusions and characterizations in the inspector general's report, as the acting director of the agency I was ultimately responsible for the actions of each employee."

Another of those criticized, Justice Department career attorney Jason Weinstein, resigned. Weinstein was a deputy assistant attorney general in Justice's criminal division in Washington.

"Weinstein was the most senior person in the department in April and May 2010 who was in a position to identify the similarity between the inappropriate tactics used in Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious," the report said. ATF agents in Arizona conducted Wide Receiver in 2006 and 2007 and began Fast and Furious in October 2009.

Weinstein's lawyer, Michael Bromwich, called the report's criticism "profoundly wrong" and "deeply flawed."

The report said that a cover memo reviewed by Weinstein for a wiretap application in Fast and Furious "clearly suggests" that ATF agents had allowed a known illicit gun purchaser to continue his illegal activities for a gun-trafficking ring selling weapons to a Mexican drug cartel.

Weinstein's review of the cover memo should have caused him to question operational details of Fast and Furious, the report stated.

In response, Weinstein's lawyer said that before reviewing any Fast and Furious wiretaps, Weinstein had been assured by ATF Deputy Assistant Director William McMahon that guns were being aggressively interdicted.

Among others the report singled out for criticism were former acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler; Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the criminal division; Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke; and Holder's own former deputy chief of staff, Monty Wilkinson.

The report said:

—Wilkinson should have promptly informed Holder of the fact that two guns found at the scene of Terry's slaying were among the 2,000 illicitly acquired weapons in Operation Fast and Furious.

—Grindler relied on the FBI to investigate the Terry killing. That reliance was misplaced, given that the bureau did not have the responsibility to determine whether errors in ATF's investigation led to the weapons ending up at the murder scene.

—Breuer should have promptly informed Deputy Attorney General James Cole or Holder about the gun-walking problems in the earlier gun probe, Operation Wide Receiver.

The inspector general said he found no evidence that former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who took office late in the Bush administration after Wide Receiver was ended, was ever informed that it used gun-walking.

Once allegations of gun-walking surfaced, the Justice Department waited 10 months before withdrawing an incorrect letter to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley in early 2011 denying that gun-walking had taken place. Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A May 2011 Justice Department letter to Grassley said that "it remains our understanding that ATF's Operation Fast and Furious did not knowingly permit straw buyers to take guns into Mexico."

The inspector general said that by May, senior department officials knew or should have known that ATF had in many instances allowed straw purchasers to buy firearms knowing that someone else would transport them to Mexico. The report also found that the department should not have provided testimony in June 2011 before Issa's committee that created ambiguity over whether the department was still defending its Feb. 4 and May 2 letters.

Speaking to reporters at ATF headquarters, acting director B. Todd Jones said the agency is already implementing some of the report's recommendations and there are no gun-walking operations going on.

"We are recalibrating how we do business at ATF," Jones said. "Everyone in the current crew knows that that is not an acceptable investigative technique unless I know about it, and I don't know about any."

FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2009, file photo, acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson speaks during a news conference in San Antonio. The Justice Department's internal watchdog on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 20012, faulted the agency for misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures during a bungled gun-trafficking probe in Arizona that resulted in hundreds of weapons turning up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico. One of those criticized in the report, Melson, who headed that office during the Fast and Furious investigation, retired upon release of the report.


'Furious' guns tied to 2010 Juarez massacre, other murders in Mexico
Published October 01, 2012

For the first time, Mexican victims of crimes tied to the botched Operation Fast and Furious are being identified, including teenagers killed in a 2010 massacre.

A new report finds dozens of weapons recovered in Mexico have been connected with the ill-fated and ill-conceived anti-gunrunning program. While some Mexican authorities estimate 300 of their citizens have been injured or killed by Fast and Furious guns, little has been known about those weapons south of the U.S. border until now.

Through the Mexican Freedom of Information Act, Spanish-language network Univision and Fox News obtained a list of 100,000 weapons recovered in Mexico in 2009 and 2010. The guns were then compared with the serial numbers of the 2,000 guns sold in Fast and Furious.

Univision identified a total of 57 more previously unreported firearms that were bought by straw purchasers monitored by ATF during Operation Fast and Furious, and then recovered in Mexico in sites related to murders, kidnappings and other actions by Mexican hit men and drug cartels.

In an investigative special that aired Sunday, Univision revealed one such massacre that was later found to be linked with Fast and Furious.

It happened in January 2010 in Juarez, Mexico, where cartel members burst into a home killing 16 people -- mostly teenagers -- at a birthday party. While the gunmen were targeting members of a rival gang attending that party, some of the victims were innocent bystanders.

Family members of those killed have appeared before the Mexican government demanding to know what happened.

"They are waiting for an answer," said Gerardo Reyes, head of Univision's investigative unit. "They want to know what happened. And why they didn't stop these guns from leaving the U.S. and ending up in these crimes?"

"They feel helpless," added Reyes. "They don't know what to do. We interviewed one of them and they said ... 'Who's going to pay for this?'"

It might end up being the U.S. government, should the family of Brian Terry prevail in its wrongful death claim. Terry is the U.S. Border Patrol agent killed in December 2010 in the Arizona desert, and whose murder scene contained weapons linked to Fast and Furious.

"The people can go and sue in the United States with support of American lawyers and that will be a very interesting development certainly," said former Mexican prosecutor Samuel Gonzalez.

The report also reveals the botched operation may have played a role in a 2009 massacre, where 18 young men were killed at a rehabilitation center also in Juarez. The massacre was reportedly ordered and carried out by Mexican hit men.

According to a Mexican Army document obtained by Univision, three of the high-caliber weapons used in the attack were linked to a gun-tracing operation run by the ATF. The partial transcript obtained by Fox News did not specify whether this was Operation Fast and Furious.

The Fast and Furious program caught the attention of Congress and the rest of the country after weapons from the operation were found at Terry's murder scene.

One Justice Department official resigned and another retired after an inspector general report on the probe faulted multiple agencies for letting it get out of hand. Fourteen officials were forwarded for possible disciplinary action.

Republican presidential running mate Paul Ryan has also joined Republicans -- including Mitt Romney -- calling for Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation, with a spokesman telling The Daily Caller Holder should step down or President Obama should ask him to do so.

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