With the release of the Office of Inspector General’s 500-page report on Operation Fast and Furious, we are one step closer to understanding the ill-fated program, under which agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives watched passively as Mexican drug cartels bought nearly 2,000 American guns and trafficked many of them south of the border.
Much of the report confirms the findings of Representative Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee, which the Left has often dismissed as a partisan witch hunt. The report finds, contrary to an argument made in Fortune magazine, that the ATF indeed allowed guns to “walk” — meaning that agents failed to seize illegal guns and arrest their buyers despite having the evidence required to do so. And as Chairman Issa noted in a statement, the report criticizes a number of high-ranking figures in the Justice Department, including “Former Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer who heads the Criminal Division, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, and Holder’s own Deputy Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson.”
How did Fast and Furious happen? The report places most of the blame on the Phoenix Field Division of the ATF and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office — both of which wanted to avoid tipping off the cartels that law enforcement was watching while they assembled a big case, and neither of which seems to have given any thought to the threat to public safety that would stem from placing 2,000 guns directly into the hands of criminals. Meanwhile, various figures up the chain of command failed to realize anything was amiss, or otherwise failed to stop the program, despite the significant amounts of federal funding that were provided to Fast and Furious.
The report also contains a wealth of information about Operation Wide Receiver, a similar program that ATF agents in Arizona pursued under the Bush administration. Some on the right have, not without reason, dismissed references to Wide Receiver as a “Bush did it too” defense. Others on the right have highlighted the ways in which Wide Receiver differed from Fast and Furious, such as that the agents made a serious effort to track some of the guns and secure the cooperation of the Mexican government.
But the report provides fairly damning evidence that the ATF did walk a large number of guns during Wide Receiver: Agents failed to interdict 410 of the 474 guns they investigated, even though the “vast majority” were clearly illegal purchases, and some officials in DOJ’s Criminal Division expressed concerns about how many guns had gone south unimpeded. None of this, of course, excuses the Obama administration’s expansion of this ill-conceived idea.
To be sure, the OIG report is not the last word. Even before the report was released, several of the ATF managers who received the brunt of the blame claimed that they’d been scapegoated, and that ATF headquarters and Main Justice knew more than the report lets on. We expect that the House Oversight Committee will continue looking for Justice higher-ups whose involvement has not been exposed to this point. The OIG is still investigating allegations that Justice retaliated against Fast and Furious whistleblowers. And most tantalizingly, the report promises “a separate report on at least one other ATF investigation that involves an individual suspected of transporting grenade components into Mexico, converting them into live grenades, and then supplying them to drug cartels.”
The report has, however, cleared the way for the Justice Department to clean house. Kenneth Melson, who stepped down as acting director of the ATF last year, has resigned from the Justice Department entirely, as has Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein. Attorney General Eric Holder (who was not told about gunwalking until the controversy broke, according to the report) has referred numerous other officials for disciplinary action.
This is not a satisfactory conclusion to a program that left a Border Patrol agent and countless civilians dead. But it is a welcome development.