Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) issued their second report on a failed federal gun-tracking operation, detailing an internal management breakdown within the Justice Department.
The 104-page report released on Monday criticizes senior DOJ officials for not being aware of — and not taking steps to stop — the flawed “gun-walking” tactics used in "Operation Fast and Furious" that allowed nearly 2,000 guns to be sold to criminals.
“The criminal division asked no questions. The office of the deputy attorney general asked no questions. No one ordered that Fast and Furious be shut down. Instead, senior Department officials let it continue to grow.”
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, investigated the DOJ and the flawed operation for 18 months, and successfully led a Republican vote to place Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to give the panel internal agency documents and communications.
The report issued a series of eight recommendations that detail ways in which the DOJ should reform its internal policies to prevent a similar breakdown in communication in the future. Issa criticized the DOJ for not taking more steps to fire or take other administrative action towards the agency officials who were responsible for the operation.
“The report discloses widespread management failures within the hierarchy of the Justice Department,” said Issa in a statement. “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.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the oversight panel's ranking member, slammed the report on Monday, saying it lacked merit and was ill-timed with the impending landfall of Hurricane Sandy Monday evening.
“It is a shame that, on a day of national emergency, Chairman Issa is rehashing this issue by directly contradicting the inspector general, who already settled this issue definitively,” Cummings said in a statement. “There is a reason Chairman Issa has not subjected even a single one of his reports this Congress to a vote of the committee, and that is because they would not withstand even the most basic scrutiny.”
A DOJ official, speaking on background, rejected the report’s conclusions, while stressing Holder’s initial call for an inspector general investigation and immediate implementation of internal reforms to prevent similar failures in the future. The DOJ official also emphasized that it was Holder who stopped the “gun walking” tactics that began in 2006 under then-President George W. Bush.
An administration official, speaking on background, criticized Issa for conducting a politically biased investigation.
“Another pathetic attempt by Issa to try to politicize this matter without regard for, or command of, the facts,” the official said.
Last month the DOJ’s inspector general (IG) issued its own 471-page report that found that four high-ranking DOJ officials, including Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein, knew enough about the dangers of the operation that they should have raised concerns with their immediate superiors.
Weinstein immediately resigned after the IG’s report was released, but Breuer remains in his office, provoking a number of Republicans, including Grassley, to call for him to step down.
“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,” said Grassley in a statement on Monday.
“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.” Grassley said.
The Republican report issued Monday states: “The department…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.
“To restore the nation’s confidence in it, the Justice Department must take corrective action immediately.”
Neither the Republican report nor the IG investigation directly faulted Holder for the failures that led up to Fast and Furious, despite more than 100 GOP lawmakers calling for his resignation.
The DOJ points to a number of reforms that Holder has directed into place since the controversial tactics of Fast and Furious were first exposed at the beginning of 2011.
The ATF moved in July, 2011 to provide a stricter oversight procedure that requires agents to give officials at ATF headquarters “specific information about all significant, ongoing investigations on a monthly basis.”
The new protocol also establishes “specific criteria under which an investigation will become a monitored case, including all investigations of complex schemes in which more than 50 firearms have been straw purchased.”
Issa and Grassley issued a previous report on Fast and Furious in July that focused on the involvement of the U.S. attorney’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which oversaw the legal and on-the-ground details, respectively.
The second report recommended DOJ “institute clear, written guidelines to outline the appropriate use of cooperating gun dealers during law enforcement investigations. The department must scrutinize investigations that involve cooperating gun dealers much more closely.”
The report also recommends that agency leadership should “foster a culture of accountability within the Department by taking responsibility and accepting consequences for their own lack of initiative and failures.”
Issa and Grassley are expected to issue a third report on Fast and Furious, which is set to “address the unprecedented obstruction of the investigation by the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the attorney general himself” and “can only be prepared after the Justice Department fulfills its obligations to cooperate with the Congress and produce documents.”
That report may be delayed as Issa’s panel continues to battle Holder for roughly 90,000 agency documents that it has been denied, but which the IG received in its investigation. The outcome of the contempt case currently underway in federal court will likely determine Issa’s lebel of access to many of those documents.
Last updated at 8:27 p.m.