Congressional Investigators Release 2nd Report on Fast and Furious: ‘DOJ Fails to Take Responsibility’

On Monday, the two lawmakers spearheading the probe into Operation Fast and Furious released their second installment of a three-part report on the failed gunwalking program. 

The 104-page Joint Staff Report, entitled “Fast and Furious: Anatomy of a Failed Operation Part II of III,” closely examined the Justice Department’s role in the operation; whereas Part I looked at the ATF’s failures and shortcomings.  (Part III will examine the DOJ’s stonewalling, in particular, Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to comply with the requests of congressional investigators.)  

In short, the saga continues.  The real question is, did the authors of the report, Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, tell us anything we didn’t already know about the operation? 

Well, no, not really.  At the end of the day, the Justice Department screwed up and as the report correctly concludes, the DOJ “failed the American people with the Fast and Furious scandal.  It failed to enforce the law, to ensure public safety, to provide leadership, to halt the operation, and to hold accountable those responsible for their conduct in conjunction with this deadly and disastrous operation.”

What it does provide the public and the media is a more substantive look at the players behind the scenes at the DOJ, highlighting their critical errors and lack of oversight while the operation was in full swing.

“Though many senior Department officials were keenly aware of Fast and Furious, no one questioned the operation,” the report said. “No one ordered that Fast and Furious be shut down. Instead, senior Department officials let it continue to grow.”

DOJ Emails

It also accused Department officials of having a “pass-the-buck” attitude when the congressional inquiry started in earnest. 

“Every senior Department official interviewed during the Committees’ investigation claimed either ignorance of Fast and Furious or that it was someone else’s responsibility to ask questions or draw connections,” the report said.

In total, five senior agency officials were singled out in the report: Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed Siskel (Coincidently, five top-level ATF agents were singled out in Part I of the report).

While Holder’s name was mentioned throughout the report, it was clear he wasn’t the primary focus.  Again, it appears Issa and Grassley are waiting to really skewer him in the final installment, Part III.

As for recommendations and corrective actions, the report is not as forceful as it needed to be.  It should have literally called for “heads to roll,” as in the removal of specific individuals from their positions within the Department, instead it called for a more general change in the “management culture.”   

“Thus far, the department has failed to reprimand any senior department officials for their actions — or lack thereof — during Fast and Furious,” the report says. “In fact, several have received promotions. The management culture of the department must change to prevent such a deadly operation from occurring again. Time is of the essence. Change must begin now.”

DOJ Emails

In a press release, both Issa and Grassley spoke to this point of little or no accountability amongst senior DOJ officials.

“The report discloses widespread management failures within the hierarchy of the Justice Department,” said Issa.  “The Justice Department has yet to evaluate these management issues and implement structural changes to prevent another disaster like Operation Fast and Furious from occurring. Furthermore, the Justice Department has taken limited action against these negligent managers.”

“Officials in the Justice Department saw any number of warnings and some even had the gunwalking information right in front of them, yet nothing was done to stop it.  Countless people may be murdered with these weapons, yet the Attorney General appears to be letting his employees slide by with little to no accountability,” said Grassley.   

“The Attorney General needs to make changes to ensure that department leadership provides oversight of the agencies they are tasked with supervising, instead of pointing fingers at somebody else,” added Grassley.

While one has to certainly respect and applaud Rep. Issa and Sen. Grassley’s investigative efforts on Operation Fast and Furious, someone should inform them that if they wait for the DOJ to police itself, they might be waiting around for a very long time. 

Following the publication of the third report, it may be wise for lawmakers to start proposing ways in which they can take real action against DOJ leadership, especially if nothing changes between now and then. 

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Here is a recap of the report’s highlights, courtesy of the Issa/Grassley press release:

•    A detailed account of the interview with former ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson.

•    The Obama Administration’s new focus on trafficking and targeting of drug cartels, which led to the strategy behind Operation Fast and Furious.

•    Testimony from senior Justice Department officials about Operation Fast and Furious and the management problems it entailed. The report finds fault with five senior DOJ Officials for failing to supervise and for missing basic red flags.  Those officials are Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed Siskel. Attorney General Holder’s Deputy Chief of Staff Robert “Monty” Wilkinson also bears some responsibility for the poor management that lead to Operation Fast and Furious.

Report Finding

•    Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed Siskel, and other officials from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General attended a detailed briefing on Operation Fast and Furious in March 2010.  Despite the evidence presented at the briefing of illegally-purchased firearms being recovered in Mexico and in the U.S., Grindler and Siskel failed to ask probing questions or take any significant follow-up action to monitor and supervise the conduct of the case.

•    ATF officials asked both the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and ODAG for assistance in speeding up the indictments in Fast and Furious.  The Justice Department, however, took no action to intervene.  Instead, officials at Department headquarters only showed concern about preparing for the press impact of the indictments.

•    Deputy Chief of Staff to the Attorney General Monty Wilkinson discussed Attorney General Holder participating in the press conference announcing the take-down of Operation Fast and Furious prior to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Report Recommendation

•    Both Monty Wilkinson and Gary Grindler were informed about the connection between Operation Fast and Furious and U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder.  Grindler received detailed information about the connection.  He took no additional action, however, to properly supervise the operation.

•    No one at Justice Department headquarters have provided complete and accurate answers to the Terry family.  During their respective transcribed interviews, Monty Wilkinson stated 38 times that he “did not recall” or “did not know.”  In a similar fashion, Gary Grindler did so 29 times, and Ed Siskel 21 times.  In two different transcribed interviews, Dennis Burke said he “did not recall” or “did not know” a combined total of 161 times.

•    Recommendations for future management of DOJ.

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Congressional Report)