The IG Report and Holder
The inspector general indicts the DOJ and the ATF.

Attorney General Eric Holder in June 2012


Hans A. von Spakovsky

Lanny Breuer also failed to inform the AG of the connection. It speaks poorly of Holder’s leadership and choice of personnel that there were so many glaring failures up and down the line in the Justice Department, from ATF line agents and prosecutors in Arizona all the way up to the senior leadership of DOJ that reports directly to Holder.

The report also makes it clear that DOJ senior officials misled Congress. It notes that Senator Chuck Grassley asked DOJ on April 13, 2011, whether the department stood by its February 4 assertion that the ATF did not knowingly “allow the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers” who transferred the weapons into Mexico.

On May 2, DOJ told Senator Grassley that the ATF “did not knowingly permit straw buyers to take guns into Mexico.” The IG says that DOJ “should not have made this statement.” DOJ officials, including Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the No. 2 official in the department, tried to argue to the IG that this statement was literally true because they were distinguishing between the “ATF knowingly allowing firearms to go to Mexico versus negligently allowing firearms to go to Mexico.” This was a false distinction, because by May 2, senior DOJ officials “knew or should have known” that the “ATF had in many instances allowed straw purchasers to buy firearms knowing that a third party would be transporting them to Mexico.” Officials in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General “knew or should have known that they could not reaffirm the accuracy” of the February 4 letter.

DOJ compounded this problem when it sent Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich (who resigned some time ago) to testify before Congress on June 15, 2011, where he similarly claimed that the “ATF doesn’t sanction or approve of the transfer of weapons to Mexico.” This suggests that James Cole sanctioned DOJ’s continuing to mislead Congress. He did not correct this until December.

In an interesting note on possible White House involvement, the report states that Kevin O’Reilly, a member of the National Security Council staff who corresponded with ATF agent Bill Newell about Operation Fast and Furious when it was ongoing, refused to be interviewed by the IG. The White House also refused to produce “any internal White House communications,” because it “is beyond the purview of the Inspector General’s Office.” Does anyone seriously doubt that O’Reilly would have cooperated with the IG if the White House had told him to do so?

Jason Weinstein, Lanny Breuer’s chief of staff in the Criminal Division, resigned when the IG report was released Wednesday, and Ken Melson, a former acting director of the ATF, retired. But there are many other officials in DOJ and the ATF who need to be disciplined or terminated for their conduct, starting with James Cole, the deputy attorney general who misled Congress for ten months.

As my colleague at the Heritage Foundation John Malcolm, a former prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division, says, the IG report shows that many of the critics of this operation, such as Senator Grassley and Representative Darrell Issa, were correct in their assessments.

According to Malcolm, this was a “misguided investigation employing exceedingly risky tactics [that] was initiated and allowed to continue for months on end, with guns turning up at more and more crime scenes, while higher-ups within ATF and DOJ ignored the many red flags that emerged and failed to ask even rudimentary questions about what the heck was going on both during the investigation and prior to sending” information about the operation to Congress.

For veterans of the department, it is another illustration of how low the professionalism and competence of a once-great law-enforcement agency has fallen. And it shows just how dangerous DOJ can be when its power is misused and abused.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department.