Five high-ranking Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives supervisors are to blame for Operation Fast and Furious, says a joint staff report authored by the two lawmakers leading the investigation into the fatally flawed gunwalking operation.
The report, which is part one of a three-part series of reports, details the breakdown in ATF leadership, claiming that the Phoenix-based operation was “marred by missteps, poor judgments and inherently reckless strategy.”
The two subsequent reports will delve into “the devastating failure of supervision and leadership” at the Department of Justice and an “unprecedented obstruction of the [congressional] investigation by the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the attorney general himself,” according to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, both of whom penned the report.
The Men Responsible
The report accused special agent-in-charge in Phoenix, William Newell, of “repeatedly risky” management and “consistently pushed the envelope of permissible investigative techniques” adding that “he had been reprimanded … before for crossing the line, but under a new administration and a new attorney general he reverted back to the use of risky gunwalking tactics.”
Newell’s boss William McMahon, the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations, was said to have “rubber stamped critical documents that came across his desk without reading them.” In short, it appears he was lazy. “In McMahon’s view it was not his job to ask any questions about what was going on in the field,” the report stated.
He was also said to have given “false testimony” to Congress about wiretap applications, the report alleged.
His supervisor – Mark Chait, Assistant Director for Field Operations – was not any better. Chait, “played a surprisingly passive role during the operation,” failing to “provide oversight that his experience should have dictated and his position required,” the report said.
Chait’s boss, the No. 2 in charge at the time of the Operation, Deputy Director William Hoover was “derelict in his duty to ensure that public safety was not jeopardized,” according to the report. Evidently, he ordered to shut down Fast and Furious, but never followed through.
Lastly, the former head of the ATF, Kenneth Melson was accused of staying “above the fray,” failing to bring the operation to an abrupt end.
The report also disclosed new information about a cover-up regarding two Fast and Furious guns that were found near the site where Mario Gonzalez, the brother of Patricia Gonzalez, the former attorney general for the state of Chihuahua, was killed.
In Nov. 2010, when ATF officials learned of the news, ATF Agent Tonya English told her coworkers, Agent Hope MacAllister and their supervisor, David J. Voth, in an email, “My thought is not to release any information.”
In December, when Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout, Voth replied, “Ugh … things will most likely get ugly.”
And finally, when Patricia Gonzalez learned about Fast and Furious and its connection to her brother’s death, she was irate.
“The basic ineptitude of these officials [who ordered the Fast and Furious operation] caused the death of my brother and surely thousands more victims,” she exclaimed.
So far, only 2 of the five men have left the ATF, the other three were reassigned to new positions within the agency.
A year ago, Melson stepped down as Acting Director. He was given a job as the “Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) where he will specialize in forensic science policy issues at the Department of Justice,” according to a 2011 ATF press release.
And late last week, William Hoover left the ATF. He had already been demoted to a subordinate position after the Fast and Furious scandal become public.
Offering no other information, an ATF spokesman simply said that William Hoover was no longer employed at the agency as of Aug 1, 2012.
The joint staff report contains “distortions” said a Justice Department spokeswoman, Tracy Schmaler. She added, however, that there’s been a “notable shift” from Republican claims that the Obama administration officials had authorized the gun-walking tactics.
Then she said the report iterated what “attorney general and other department officials have been saying from the beginning — that the flaws in this operation, and in previous ones, had their origins in the field in Arizona and occurred, in part, due to weak oversight by A.T.F. leadership.”
In other words, the DOJ is not at fault. But this narrative falls flat, especially if one believes the testimony of Melson who told investigators that his Justice Department supervisors “were doing more damage control than anything” else once Fast and Furious became public.
“My view is that the whole matter of the department’s response in this case was a disaster,” Melson said.
As mentioned, the DOJ will be the target of the next report. It’ll be interesting to note how many times Attorney General Eric Holder’s name comes up.