Eric Holder claims that the just-released Office of Inspector General report on Operation Fast and Furious vindicates his claims that he knew nothing about this reckless operation. He seems oblivious to the fact that the almost-500-page report is a damning indictment of his lack of leadership, supervision, and judgment.
Holder supposedly knew nothing about (and his senior leadership failed to alert him to) a major investigation that resulted in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, hundreds of deaths in Mexico, and more than 2,000 weapons’ ending up in the hands of criminals there. It is a chilling comment on how badly the Justice Department is run today. As the attorney general, essentially the CEO of the Department of Justice, Holder is directly responsible for what the inspector general calls 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.”
In the report, the IG says he has “identified individuals ranging from line agents and prosecutors in Phoenix and Tucson to senior ATF officials in Washington, D.C., who bore a share of responsibility for ATF’s knowing failure . . . to interdict firearms illegally destined for Mexico, and for doing so without adequately taking into account the danger to public safety that flowed from this risky strategy.” He also found “failures by [DOJ] officials related to these matters, including failing to respond accurately to a Congressional inquiry about them.” The adjectives used in the IG report to describe the conduct and supervision of Operation Fast and Furious range from “significantly flawed” to “irresponsible.”
The report notes that none of the five deputy assistant attorneys general who reviewed the wiretap applications “identified any issues or raised any concerns about the information contained in the applications.” In fact, three of the DAAGs who agreed to be interviewed admitted that they did not read the agents’ supporting affidavits that were submitted with the wiretap applications. That documentation is essential to determining whether a wiretap application meets the factual and legal standards of the law.
Those affidavits, which contained information about firearms’ being trafficked into Mexico, should have “caused a prosecutor . . . particularly one who was already sensitive to the issue of ‘gun walking,’ to have questions about ATF’s conduct of the investigation.” That they were not reviewed by several DOJ officials who were tasked with doing so reflects a lapse of professionalism and competence.
When I was a counsel to the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, it was my job to review all of the reports and memoranda sent to the AAG on investigations and operations. If I had neglected to do so, I would have been severely derelict in my responsibilities. In fact, I would have been fired. And yet such dereliction of duty occurred under the direct supervision (or lack thereof) of Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division and a former Clinton-administration lawyer.
The IG also notes that while Holder received weekly reports on Operation Fast and Furious, his immediate subordinates, including the “the Attorney General’s Deputy Chief of Staff, the Acting Deputy Attorney General, and the leadership of the Criminal Division[,] failed to alert the Attorney General to significant information about or flaws in those investigations.”
Again, this is an astonishing finding and one that reflects poorly on Holder’s subordinates, including Lanny Breuer, as well as Holder’s supervision of them. It is their job to keep the attorney general advised about major investigations, prosecutions, and cases being conducted by the Justice Department. This would be particularly true of an operation that could affect our relations with another country.
The IG report asserts that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives never advised senior DOJ leadership of the gunwalking aspect of the operation. But even when, for example, Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler received an e-mail on December 17, 2010, informing him of the connection between Operation Fast and Furious and the two weapons found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, he took no action. He failed to notify his immediate superior, Eric Holder, or take any other steps whatsoever in response. Two weeks later he became Holder’s chief of staff.