DOJ criminal division chief Breuer resigns

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer announced his resignation as the head of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) criminal division on Wednesday.

Breuer had faced steady Republican calls for him to step down over his handling of a botched gun-tracking operation, but Attorney General Eric Holder lauded his top lieutenant’s performance and “unwavering commitment” to the DOJ.

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“Lanny has led one of the most successful and aggressive criminal divisions in the history of the Department of Justice, accomplishing record penalties in corruption cases at home and abroad and dismantling major organized crime and healthcare fraud networks around the country while also protecting the integrity of our banking systems and fighting financial fraud,” Holder said in a statement.

“Throughout his tenure, Lanny has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the mission of this Department, and I want to thank him for his dedication and exceptional service.”

The DOJ applauded Breuer’s work along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying, “the criminal division has made great strides in the fight against violent crime along the southwest border and across the country.”

Breuer has brought charges against the alleged killers of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata and those allegedly responsible for the 2010 killing of a U.S. Consular official in Mexico, along with hundreds of others involved in drug and gang warfare, according to the DOJ’s statement accompanying Breuer’s announcement.

Calls for his resignation began last Congress amid Republican investigations into Operation Fast and Furious, which failed to track nearly 2,000 weapons sold to suspected criminals in the Southwest. A weapon from the operation was found at the murder scene of a Border Patrol agent.

At the request of Attorney General Eric Holder, the DOJ’s inspector general completed a lengthy report on the operation.

The IG’s report found that four top DOJ officials — Breuer, Holder’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and former acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler — should have raised concerns sooner with their superiors about flaws within Fast and Furious.

Breuer “did not authorize any of the investigative activities” in Fast and Furious, according to the report. But he was aware that a previous operation under President George W. Bush’s administration, "Wide Receiver," had used similar “gun walking” tactics, which he described as “obviously flawed,” the report stated. And yet, upon learning of Fast and Furious, the officials did not take appropriate action.

“Given the significance of this issue and the fact that [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] ... reports to the deputy attorney general, we believe that Breuer should have promptly informed the deputy attorney general or the attorney general about the matter in April 2010. Breuer failed to do so,” the report states.

The DOJ on Wednesday cast a wider view of Breuer’s tenure with the department, citing a plethora of successes that occurred under his watch, including the development of a program guarding against foreign corrupt officials hiding their ill-gotten spoils in the United States and increasing the enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Breuer’s resignation comes in the wake of a PBS "Frontline" investigation that aired last week criticizing him for not prosecuting Wall Street powerbrokers for their role in the financial crisis.

But combating financial fraud has been at the top of Breuer’s accomplishments, the DOJ said, citing his role in successfully prosecuting and landing heavy prison sentences for the former heads of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker and Stanford International Bank.

The agency also highlighted the criminal division’s successful investigation of the London Interbank Offered Rate, which has led to nearly $2 billion in criminal penalties and a guilty plea by a UBS subsidiary. A separate DOJ unit under Breuer’s watch has reaped $3.1 billion in criminal forfeitures from major financial institutions guilty of money-laundering.