House Democrats today defended senior Justice Department leaders over the handling of a botched gun investigation that allowed thousands of firearms to flow into Mexico and into the hands of criminals.
Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the Operation Fast and Furious gun probe, said in a letter accompanying a report that the committee hasn’t turned up evidence showing that the sting “was a politically-motivated operation conceived and directed by high-level Obama Administration political appointees at the Department of Justice.”
“The documents obtained and interviews conducted by the Committee indicate that it was the latest in a series of reckless and fatally flawed operations run by ATF’s Phoenix Field Division during both the previous and current administrations,” Cummings wrote in the letter.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is continuing its Fast and Furious investigation. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is scheduled to testify Thursday morning before the committee.
Holder hasn’t defended the sting. In earlier testimony, the attorney general has described Fast and Furious as “fatally flawed.” Holder has predicted law enforcement agents will grapple with the effects of the botched program for months, if not years, as guns continue to show up at crime scenes. "This should never have happened, and it must never happen again," Holder said at a Senate hearing last November.
Two assault rifles purchased in the United States ended up at the murder scene of border patrol agent Brian Terry. Terry was fatally shot in Arizona in December 2010. The authorities said the person who bought the rifles was a suspected straw purchaser involved in a gun trafficking ring.
Cummings in his letter today called Fast and Furious a “misguided” investigation.
“The report describes how, rather than halting this operation after its flaws became evident, ATF’s Phoenix Field Division launched several similarly reckless operations over the course of several years, also with tragic results,” Cummings said. “Operation Fast and Furious was the fourth in a series of operations in which gunwalking—the non-interdiction of illegally purchased firearms that could and should be seized by law enforcement—occurred since 2006.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement this afternoon that “the idea that senior political appointees have clean hands in these gunwalking scandals doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
Senior DOJ leaders, Grassley said, “ignored the warning signs and failed to put a stop to it or hold anyone accountable.” He noted that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has acknowledged knowing about gunwalking tactics as early as April 2010.
“He stood mute as this administration fought tooth and nail to keep any of this information from coming out for a year,” Grassley said. “It will take a lot more than a knee-jerk defense from their political allies in Congress to restore public trust in the leadership of the Justice Department.”
The Justice Department is conducting an internal investigation of Fast and Furious. Grassley said DOJ has provided its Office of the Inspector General with 80,000 pages of documents. He said DOJ officials have only turned over to Congress about 6,000 pages.